Dreamy Erratic imagism

Christopher Davison
Christopher Davison
Reclining Figure (Untitled)
30 x 40 in
acrylic, gouache, micron, graphite, cut paper on Rives

at 817 Gallery at UArts is a show that roams the territory of the id and dreams and asks you to wander with it. Get on over there because it’s great, and the show’s only up another little while. Animals, birds and humans seem to exchange body parts and roles and everyone’s a little grouchy — growling or staring ominously, all teeth and portent. Works by Christopher Davison, Nick Lenker and Caroline Santa, organized by Rebecca Saylor Sack, fill the tiny gallery with a level of angst, sexual innuendo, and the kind of wise-child insights and mind-leaps you often see in kindergarten art. The emanations from the artists’ minds reveal much but will not be nailed down as to subject or intent. In this works on paper show they’re great Rorschachs.

Christopher Davison’s gouache and mixed-media Reclining Figure is one show-stopper in a show that’s got several. The piece features a man in a red bodysuit reclining on a green field. In the man’s crotch grows a mini-skyscraper city of erect penises, all individualized with stripey patterns, all thrusting assertively but somehow companionably — a  peaceable kingdom of penises. Davison’s figure has a face that grimaces as he appears to be on the verge of speech. The body’s posture is awkward — it’s less a “reclining figure” with all those art historical references to the languorous female served up for delectation than it is a figure that might just have been smacked down and is trying to get up again.

Christopher Davison
Christopher Davison
20 x 14 in
micron, colored pencil, gouache, and graphite

Davison’s method of drawing and painting is both brut and delicate. He layers transparent washes of color, uses graphite and micron pen, and collages an arm from one drawing onto another to give a kind of outsiderish whatever-it-takes affect. In places he will cut gently into the top layer of paint and peel it back to reveal the raw paper underneath. His techniques are so varied the works beg to be looked at up close. And it’s a good thing, too, because it’s up close you see the marvelous facial details and a suggestion that the work has been violated to make it better. Davison’s other crotch-piece is of a woman in a swimming suit. She too is grimacing like the reclining man and her swim suit–collaged on from another drawing — is paper doll perfect, except for its imperfection.

Caroline Santa
Caroline Santa
Some Preparatory Drawings
Mixed media on paper
Sizes variable

Caroline Santa’s wall of small mixed-media drawings is like an exploded sketchbook on the wall. The small works have the feel of a captured dream or daydream. Where Davison’s works focus on individuals, Santa’s drawings capture two figures together and there are words on the drawing suggesting a conversational tidbit….or perhaps someone musing out loud. Santa’s subject is relationships and the funny pull between people who are together but still individuals.

Caroline Santa, Preparatory Drawings, detail.
Caroline Santa, Preparatory Drawings, detail.

Some of the phrases and sentiments written on the little cartoonish works show the artist’s way with words as well:
“You change all the time so I never know.”
“There’s no momentum here.”
“It was all his fault that the son died so he was always sad for th…”
“I caught this now let’s eat it.”
“The right foot fell off so they put it in a cage.”

Nick Lenker
Nick Lenker
Head 2 Head Heart 2 Heart
22 x 30 in
digital print

Nick Lenker’s digital prints are charged with sexual tension and just plain tension: animal/men fighting in one and a pig-headed gorgon with slaves bringing gold to the piggy bank in the other. Politics, sex, money and power is potent stuff and visually bold. Where Santa’s and Davison’s works are intimate, Lenker’s require you to step back. They’re so heated you need distance to digest them.

I love this new kind of figuration. The blend of real and dream imagery, and the sly, collagist manner in which the works are made is great. It’s encouraging to see 2-D works as fresh as this. They’re worthy of a long look. More photos at flickr.

Erratic: Christopher Davison, Nick Lenker, Caroline Santa
to Feb. 14
Gallery 817
333 S. Broad St. (8th floor)