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Looking And Layering: Darkly Whimsical Works At Packer Schopf

By Carrie McGath in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 18, 2015 3:45PM

Americana 62Hardcover Books, Acrylic Varnish2013(24-1/2 x 44-3/4”, 27-3/4 x 33-1/2”, 24-1/2 x 44-1/2”,30-3/4 x 39-1/2”, 27-1/2 x 39-1/2”) x 2-1/4”

As you stroll through Packer Schopf Gallery, it is not immediately evident that the work in Brian Dettmer's Antisocial Media, are the cutaways of a bibliophile.

Once books, the materials are manipulated into his riveting pieces that adeptly both hide and reveal a minutiae of text and images. The series is magical in its storybook wonderment while it conveys a sardonic humor that beckons Surrealist parlor games such as an exquisite corpse. Additionally, the poetry that emerges as he erases the context and the narrative understanding, undoubtedly propels viewers to look deeper, longingly and then deeper still.

The installation of Dettmer's Americana 62 series quotes a vintage textbook aesthetic, showing through peek-a-boo images, odes to biology and American history textbooks of yesteryear. In one, a dissected frog emerges, cut again with a surgical precision the artist tirelessly employs. Images throughout the five-part series are cut out of baby-blue books of maps and are connected by canals he created to weave the lot of them together.

The other parts in Americana showcase both the recognizable and the perplexing and abstract. The iconic figure of John F. Kennedy is butted up against images of banal industrial structures, globes and more.

In Displays One Particle, man commingles with the particled world, creating a small but powerful piece that ponders the scientific, the esoteric and the human compulsion to explore, exploit and conquer. In a sense, this is precisely what Dettmer is doing in creating his work as he carves and layers, resulting in wholly different structures that build new narratives and structures, metaphors and poetic vignettes.

In the gallery below, the complex paintings in Mary Porterfield's series, Dual Natures, exemplifies her sleight of hand technique. From a distance, they appear as airy, yet complex, landscapes. Close up, layers of imagery and narrative are folded in, slightly disguised. Painting on wood panel, the naturalistic subject matter is very much at home as the slickness of the oil paint on the natural canvas conveys a dichotomy of the organic coexisting with the synthetic.

Released and CompelledOil on canvas, 36” x 50”2014

Released and Compelled is such an active work, showing the artist's nimble hand and deep understanding of optical illusion and subconscious capture. Her work is the kind that can be studied endlessly, with details emerging upon further examination. This work is decidedly intriguing as it situates innocence alongside a potential for danger, threatening the child-like purity. A watchtower roots itself into a scene that is skirted by scaffolds and machinery. Even though these constructs fade into the distance, their ghostly appearance hints at an impending encroachment. Children play among this scene while figures in robes kneel at the water's edge as if praying or struggling to protect the innocents from being swallowed by the landscape that threatens their natural environs.

This is an exhibition about layers, both literally and in a figurative sense, since the very act of fusing images by each artist shows their incredible ability to depict a range of humanism, history and the complication of exploitation. Brian Dettmer will be giving an Artist's Talk at Packer Schopf Gallery on Saturday, June 27 at 4:00 p.m. with the closing reception to follow.

Through June 27, Packer Schopf Gallery, 942 W. Lake St.