Ridiculous and sublime, have it all — David Graham and Paul Cava at Gallery 339

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David Graham
David Graham
Goodyear, Arizona, 2006
photographic c-print, ed. 25
20×24″
30×40″

David Graham‘s Almost Paradise at Gallery 339 shows the Philadelphia photographer’s recent road trips all over the US. Almost Hell is more like it. Touching down everywhere from the post-Katrina south of New Orleans and Gulfport to places like Goodyear, Az, Omaha, NE, and Studio City CA, Graham trains his camera on the odd surreal moment and, especially, the odd bit of American advertising signage.  Graham’s deadpanning camera serves up the real world as one piece of Almost Fiction after another. It’s not really Ripley’s Believe it Or Not but sometimes it’s not too far from that either.

Graham has a particular zest for the macabre. He’s not a documentarian like WeeGee but his photos are documentation of the weird.

David Graham
David Graham
Dallas, Texas, 2007
photographic c-print

editions of 25
20×24″
30×40″

Dallas, Texas, 2007, a Wizard of Oz picture, delivers its punch via Toto, here, a taxidermied mutt in the arms of what on first glance looks like a real Dorothy (but on closer scrutiny is obviously not).

David Graham
David Graham
Studio City, California, 2006
photographic c-print

editions of 25
20×24″
30×40″

Studio City, California, 2006, is an American monument of a different sort. If the hand were not so lovingly portrayed–the veins, the creases in the skin–it would just be a car up there on a lift. The disembodied hand brings it to the level of Halloween and Carrie and all hands rising up out of the ground in horror movies.

David Graham
David Graham
Gulfport, Mississippi (Pawn Shop), 2006
photographic c-print
editions of 25
20×24″
30×40″

And how about this for weird…Proving again that the world is indeed smal, I will mention here that Graham and Zoe Strauss, another well-loved photographer on Artblog, have almost identical photos of a pawn shop wall in Gulfport, MS, featuring a painted hand clutching a bunch of dollars.

These two artists have very different intentions for most of their works but when it comes to taking photos of signage they both seem drawn to signs that are weird and unexpected and signs that have been subverted (Strauss’s post-Katrina twisted McDonalds sign; Graham’s decapitated cowboy (see above)). Both Gulfport images are in the photographers’ new books. Graham’s is in Almost Paradise and Strauss’s is in her forthcoming America. I don’t know what the timetable is for Strauss’s book, but it had a snafu with the printer in China which wanted to censor some images!

MEANWHILE

Paul Cava
Paul Cava
Untitled (Wing), 2008
collage 14×22″

Paul Cava‘s sepia-toned works in Gallery 339’s quiet upstairs gallery sit like time travelers from long ago and far away. Cava’s un-editioned works are collages of imagery that sing the praises of the human body and spirit at the same time that they hint at human foibles. The large exhibit of new and some older works mixes antique photographs, prints and papers into larger montages, although all are small which goes well with their quiet intimacy.

Like more poetic and intractable rebus puzzles whose content unfolds as you “read” (left to right or front to back or in some cases up, down, around and through a tableau) the pieces suggest words and thoughts, although in fragments and swimming beneath the conscious mind.

Ferris wheels and bi-planes form a counterpoint to the human nudes that populate the works –the vulnerability of nature against the man-made world, perhaps.  Or maybe the idea is about humans defying the laws of nature in mechanized vehicles for flights — or at least flights of fancy (ferris wheel).  As for Cava’s figures, many of them (most from found sources) are caught in grand gestures. Untitled (Wing) from 2008 shows a male nude in a dance-like pose striding with arms upraised. The Gift (For AC) has a woman (whose image is like an x-ray) cupping her breasts in an off-balance pose that’s theatrical and mysterious.

Paul Cava
Paul Cava
Ink Series (Christ #1), 1997
ink on photo lithograph
7 1/2×10″

Two works from the Ink Series (1997) stand apart for their singularity of image — a face (Christ in one; a woman in another) is transformed by the addition of a melting or mask-like cover. Both more surreal and direct than the other works these images suggest the complicated relationship between present wand past. And, without actually being grafitti, they are indeed like that, a marking-over of something that exists in the world and claiming it anew. Denise (New Mexico) from 2005 uses the masking technique as well.

Paul Cava. The Gift (For AC), 2005. Pigment Print on Rice Paper. 9 3/4 x 10 5/8 inches.
Paul Cava. The Gift (For AC), 2005. Pigment Print on Rice Paper. 9 3/4 x 10 5/8 inches.

As beautiful as the works are they are also forlorn and filled with thoughts of human fragility and vulnerability.  In a way they remind me very much of Joseph Cornell boxes, although playing only in 2-dimensional space, not 3.  Their heightened poetic aesthetic is definitely the road less taken in art-making these days.  And that does make them different.

Paul Cava
Paul Cava
The Source, 2007
pigment print and collage
14×10 5/8″

Paul Cava: The Heart of the Matter
David Graham: Almost Paradise
To Nov. 8
Gallery 339
339 South 21st Street
215.731.1530
2
www.gallery339.com

Tags

david graham, gallery 339, paul cava

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