Often Mother Nature lends her poisonous creations a certain sexiness.  If eaten,
    those brightly-tinted Disney-looking toadstools will cause illness or death. In fact,
    the mere lure of toxicity and its after-effects, the obscure pleasures of remorse and
    regret for instance, are for many of us undeniably, uncomfortably close to the
    essence of desire. If you “can’t get no satisfaction” you can at least get thoroughly

    In art, an emphasis on distortion and artificially are often associated with the
    superannuation or decay of a strong aesthetic movement. “Mannerism” in one form
    or another has dogged the steps of classical movements, and in the wake of high
    modernism’s heroic stance much of postmodernism’s almost obsessively disoriented
    relationship to form, content, and technical means  might be put in the same class
    as Parmigianino’s or El Greco’s darkly expressive, elongated visions of the human

    The exhibit Toxic Color currently on view at exit gallery space juried by distinguished
    painter and Kent State University Associate professor Martin Ball from a national
    call for entries, is a show that explores several aspects of contemporary stylistic
    concerns, among which toxicity is invoked as a rallying cry of the au courant.
    Included are artists from as far afield as New York and New Jersey, Florida and Iowa.

    In his introduction to the show’s catalogue Ball writes not so much about color but
    about the range of ways in which paint can be applied in the twenty-first century,
    derived often from industrial applications, and of the new associative spectrums that
    are thus brought into play. Ball himself, for instance, uses a motorcycle detailing
    tool to airbrush multi-layered spirals onto paper and canvas. The resulting hybrid
    works combine an impulse to organic-seeming movement with a hard-edged,
    mechanical technique that necessarily alters and undermines the initial impression
    of spontaneity.

    Toxic Color is not mainly a show of paintings, which make up less than half of the 26
    works on display. Even those mounted on the wall typically push their mixed media
    components beyond the surface of their supports, becoming a sort of bas relief or
    simply sculpture.  Several are not on the walls at all, but stuck in corners on the
    floor, as if to further emphasize the disdain and neglect suffered by inelegant or
    informal, grungy-seeming colors, materials, and techniques.  Looking around the
    gallery’s two rooms there is a definite thematic unity, and not least in regard to what
    many might consider to be “toxic” colors. Acid pinks and greens and nutrition-
    deprived ends of the rainbow address the hungry eye with aggressive defiance, as
    if daring you to look harder for aesthetic coherence – for beauty, if you will, or just
    for something to sink your teeth into..

    It’s definitely there to be found. One northern Ohio artist included is Jenniffer Omaitz
    (Free Times 10/4/06), whose oil on panel work Phthalo Lighting is a smoothly
    executed study of one of Omaitz’ own long exposure photographs of night-time light
    effects. On the left of the painting three vertical bands of attenuated yellow or
    green, and pinkish white, and a blue like dirty toothpaste, swish across a dark
    background. On the right a peaked lightening-like upside-down “V” scratches a
    vague rose-orange cloud. Hairy pink and white marks crackle around the bands on
    the left and the whole gives an almost calligraphic impression, as if reproducing an
    arcane text of the night.

    Another standout is Iowa-based Josh Ryther’s Untitled, a mixed media work made
    from materials as diverse as X-ray photos and wood grain-printed contact paper, as
    well as paint. Owing much to the otherworldly imagery of classical surrealism Ryther
    presents a predominately pink interior scene punctuated by round black holes.
    Orange paint spouts from one of these, while a wooden-looking pole grows out of
    another. Attached to the pole is a thick horizontal platform, like a cut and partially
    finished chunk of wood, on which rests a carefully rendered entity that could be an
    animal, or might be a gourd or ceramic vessel. Beautifully conceived, composed
    and executed, Ryther’s strange image takes its place part-way between a surrealist
    interest in the mechanics of the unconscious, and a more contemporary, frank
    engagement with the ambiguities of decorative materials and motifs.

    Mark Keffer is a northern Ohio artist of long standing, represented here by an
    acrylic and latex on paper work titled Half-Thought with Reverb. Keffer’s “imaginary
    landscapes,” as he calls them in a statement included in the show’s catalogue, are
    layered explorations of pure imagery that generate dialogues between  different
    types of formal elements, placing geometric and biomorphic in association against a
    color field.  The results here have a logic all their own, and despite washed-out,
    “poisonous” color choices, an easy-to-appreciate beauty.

    Some of the most painterly images on view in this show are in fact photographs.  
    Baltimore-based Mindy Best contributes a 2 foot square metallic C-print called E127
    that could easily be an abstract alkyd work.  It’s a close-up shot of diagonal
    magenta stripes, augmented here and there with splashes of sickly green. Possibly
    it’s a photo of candy canes, but Best doesn’t reveal her subject. That it evokes the
    slightly sickly, sticky sweetness of something makes it an unusually effective work.

    In the show’s only figurative entry, Kentucky photographer Stephanie Grote displays
    a large (30”/20”) color underwater photo. It shows part of a woman’s face,
    shoulders, left arm and left shin and foot, emerging from a blob-like, blood-colored
    mass of fabric, spreading in the pale waters of a swimming pool like a stain. The red
    is also reflected above her head, cutting the woman’s features off just above eye
    level like an elaborate hat. As an innovative juxtaposition of the human figure with
    abstract elements, the photo works especially well precisely because it is a
    photograph, demanding that the eye believe and interpret a mysterious and
    fantastic-seeming image in real-world terms. That the effort to do this changes
    nothing and only underlines the multiple, gut-level associations invoked by color
    and form sums up the various themes of Toxic Color. In a show consisting almost
    entirely of art objects that push the limits of what is aesthetically coherent, at or
    near the shifting boundaries between 2D and 3D presentation, Grote’s image
    seems especially on the money. Her poisoning is a subtle affair that uses “real”
    elements to break down reality, moving toward a use of form and color that crosses
    the blood barrier of visual apprehension, shooting directly into the brain.

    [Free Times 7/25/07]

Poisoners @ exit (a gallery space)
Untitled. Josh Ryther