MFAs Erica Prince and Brandon Dean at Tyler

With clarity of thought and swell objects , work by Erica Prince and by Brandon Dean stood out in the first group of four solo MFA shows at Temple Art Gallery last week.

Erica Prince, Other Ways of Being

Erica Prince, Released From Orbit, installation

Prince is a big thinker–inventing new universes and new ways of life for new life forms in dreamy, poetic landscapes of bumps, tubes, and planet-like structures. The show Other Ways of Being includes both 3-D and 2-D works that give vent to imaginings that are both familiar enough to charm, unfamiliar enough to intrigue.

Erica Prince, drawing from the Permission Granted Series

Her central installation is a mirror rug on which rest a number of half-planets and half-atom-like structures that reflect below to create wholes.  A sculptural constellation of lights and the grid of the cheesy ceiling and its circular spotlights also reflect from above–the ceiling a fillip that adds still another dimension to the ruminations on space.  Walking toward the edge of the mirror gives a vertiginous sense of tumbling through space.

Erica Prince, Mega Structure Models, installation detail

Another array, less cosmological, more like parts of futuristic landscapes, rest on a table. Wee ladders lead to ceramic wormholes and tiers designed for perhaps other intelligent life forms. And the wall drawings range from cosmological imaginings to urban organizations of lumps, bumps and other approaches to life elsewhere or afterward.

Erica Prince, Megastructure Models detail

Beam me up.

Brandon Dean, The Lure

Brandon Dean, Onward, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, 2011, the smallest painting in the show; it’s the first and poses the questions for the rest

Brandon Dean’s exhibit, The Lure, is six mostly large paintings–portraits and abstractions. But the work suggests an ambiguous narrative that’s open to a variety of interpretations. The initial picture is a small portrait of a beautiful young man with a gorgeous head of tousled blond curls. He is clearly an object of desire. The ensuing paintings suggest erasure and fashion and transformation.

Brandon Dean, Meltdown, oil on canvas, 78 x 80 inches, 2011

Meltdown suggests (to me) that he’s shaving off his hair and his identity. In another perhaps he’s being enveloped in a fog and in still another emerges as a nude model in a gender-ambiguous pose that smacks of Greek or Roman godhood.

Brandon Dean, Prima Volta, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 2012; runway fashion meets Star Trek

The model himself is riveting, camera candy, a blond-haired, blue-eyed dream.  What, Dean asks, are we are setting up as a human ideal? Suddenly, all beauty and fashion are on the table for dissection along with a culture’s subliminal (and overt) values. The ambitious scale of most of these paintings–four of the six are 60 to 80 inches–reflects the ambition of thought. Dean’s paintings are not only beautiful; they are conceptual, part of an overarching concept that’s open in its particularity.

I saw two other shows in that first round– a video installation by John Crowe and a living room installation by Bethany Pelle. Of Crowe’s endlessly looping videos with zooming sound effects, the most interesting and surprising direction is in the glimpsed reflections in shiny car finishes.   Pelle’s installation of a sterile living space with a mutant kitty sculpture on the floor and a projected view on the wall needs more material content. I could not guess either artist’s intentions.