Visual Arts
Key to the Universe by Sean Madden
Key to the Universe by Sean Madden

Alchemy of Dreams

by / Jan. 14, 2015 12am EST

Some art speaks in a whisper. Some art shouts at you. In either case, the audience might have trouble understanding just what the artist is trying to say. The work of Sean Madden fairly screams its message. Or confusion of disparate messages. The work of Tara Sasiadek is more in an undertone. As if not quite willing to speak up, say aloud. An exhibit of paintings by both artists, plus sculptures by Sasiadek, is on view in the Hi-Temp building, 79 Perry Street, next to the Sabres’ arena. 

The exhibit is called The Alchemy of Dreams. A tunnel-like installation of foam and torn paper and tubing and tape you pass through to enter the exhibit proper recalls Alice’s tunnel into a dream world, and some of Sasiadek’s works have a dreamy hallucinative quality, but many of Madden’s are more in the category nightmares. Fraught with symbolism, hinting at mystery, that is often overwhelmed by a penchant for mundane literalism. A painting called Songs of Love and Death shows a banjo player—all except for his head, a kind of fiery emanation coalescing in a single large green eye—surrounded by cliché symbols of life—flowers, bees—and death—a skull, bullets, planes bombing a city in flames. Another, called When Saturn Blew My Mind, shows a guy—his torso anyway, his head, what must have been his head, floating off like an oil slick on water—and right above him, above the oil slick, a huge Saturn with rings. So close it looks like it is going to crash into the earth. (Though I don’t think that’s the message. Gravity is not a particular law in Madden’s nightmare world.) 

Religious faith takes a hit in a painting of a kid in a confession box beset by a variety of ogres and monsters, denizens of the darkness. But one article of faith remains, faith in artistic endeavor, artistic vision. A work called Key to the Universe shows the arm and hand of a painter holding a paintbrush aloft like a torch, the brush surrounded by an electronics effect halo, as if to attest its preternatural power to solve whatever problem or conundrum. Emphatic arteries along the arm of the artist attest the source of that power. Another shows an artist at meticulous work on a painting. It is called A Love Supreme

A number of works—too many—in a bizarre vein. Such as Cocktails with Uncle Fudgie at the Robot Apocalypse, presenting Uncle Fudgie, presumably, and his companion bulldog, both drinking what look like pink martinis, the dog also smoking a cigarette in a holder, while space alien apparatus hovers in the near background sky. 

An anomalous work stylistically—traditional realist, and in normal speaking tones, as it were, not a shout or a scream—is a double portrait of the artist—the other artist, that is, called Tara. Two faces of the same subject, in different moods, looking in different directions, Janus-like. But very impressive work. 

Sasiadek’s paintings are often tall verticals as to format, and sometimes in pairs, and depict a variety of similar images—trees, tree trunks that tend to morph at the base, the roots, into human hands, long and slender fingers, and forest animals, sometimes vaguely vulpine, with dark eyes possibly concealing mysteries, sometimes more deer-like, and characteristically pale, pallid, in an other-worldly way. Snakes are another recurring image. And flowers, frogs, moths. What it all means—might mean—is a puzzle. You look to the individual work titles for help. You’re disappointed. Capricious titles like Exhibitionist Snails on their Cigarette Break (a tall vertical work, imagery of trees and what might be snails). Or its mate, Adolescent Owl Banned from Facebook (imagery of trees and a little owl partly hidden among them). 

Sometimes the titles are just suggestive of a message or meaning, for example, Experience in All its Uncertainty, but hard to see how the actual work bears out the title sense (imagery of trees, in this case, and a frog, a moth, a human face).

The sculptural works are extrusion blossoms of polymer foam and other media, in a jumble of shell and tentacle forms, suggestions of primitive life, suggestions of sea floor. One of these is called Aletheia, a word that predates Plato but means truth in what is basically a Platonic sense of something known—remembered, not forgotten—from a distant past—perhaps even earlier existence. (From the root lethe, meaning forgetting—the river Lethe in Greek myth and Dante—and alpha privative, negativing the forgetting idea.) Perhaps such truth—such arcana—needs to be whispered. 

The Madden/Sasiadek exhibit is up through January 18.