Work by four artists notably employing text in their art is currently on display at Hallwalls. Some of it quite beautiful, some of it pretty funny, some of it pretty facile-looking. The four artists are Eric Magnuson, Betty Tompkins, Brad Phillips, and Amy Greenan.
Magnuson uses text—words and occasional phrases or even acronyms—in works that play on the verbal significance of the text via graphic design. A piece called Flipping the Script presents two iterations of that phrase writ large in elegant script lettering—once backwards, once upside down and backwards, and on top of each other. Only slightly legible, with some labor on the part of the reader. Pun on the idea of flipping off. But beautiful in a way—that has something to do with the elegance of the script and elegance of the design, the composition. The way these disparate matters play back and forth on each other.
Another piece, entitled To be continued, consists of that phrase lettered across two different—separate, discontiguous—panels. Another consists of some text message association abbreviations (THX, OMG, LOL, WTF) in varieties of comic book emphasis fonts. Another work consists of just a comma, in gold, on a white diamond form highway information sign.
Tompkins’s contribution is part of her “Women Words” series and comprises two hundred some small artist’s notebook pages each with a word or phrase that has been used—in many cases likely in the hearing of anyone viewing the display, in some cases possibly even by some of the viewers—to describe or characterize women. Some complimentary (intelligent, warm, loyal, savvy), others denigrative (floozy, cow, badass, bitch, much worse). There’s about a fifty-fifty split between the nice ones and the nasty ones, but the nasty ones somehow jump out.
Phillips’s contribution consists if a few dozen again artist’s notebook pages—but larger format notebook than Tompkins’s—cursorily hand-lettered with intended clever or intended comic variations on common sayings or maybe newly made up sayings by the artist. Some funny, some lame, some arcane. (There’s No Business like No Business; Bed, Bath, and Bored; Live Free and Die or Something; Barely Hegel Magazine.)
You get the impression—you’re supposed to get the impression—but an impression beyond the impression you’re supposed to get—a meta-impression as it were—that not a whole lot of effort went into the production of this work. Effort is hardly a criterion for good or bad. But still.
Greenan’s work is something altogether more considerable. Work also with a kind of a cursory production look—painted words and letters incomplete and overlapping, and prevalent paint drips and runs—but careful cursory. Painstaking cursory. And more about the painting—the look and feel of paint on canvas—than about the words and letters. Dense, sensual, beautiful.
Usually Greenan paints houses—paintings of houses—usually with a manifest unfinished quality. House parts missing or just casually sketched in. A little like rough draft. With copious drips and runs. As if somewhere in the middle of the project, the painter’s attention went elsewhere.
Much the same effect here, with the words and letters. A sense of incomplete. Preliminary. But as finished work, the focus on the painterly process, not versus product but as product.
Greenan’s work reminds me of a statement by the artist Robert Bechtle. Also a painter of houses. But not particularly interesting houses—tract houses, pretty much one just like another—in a not particularly distinctive style—like Greenan’s distinctive style—but insistently plain realistic. His statement about why he paints what he paints. He says, “I suppose the subject of painting is painting, but of course it’s never that simple. You need to find something to paint…”
The four artists show continues through October 28.
Text-based paintings by Amy Greenan,
Eric Magnuson, Brad Phillips, & Betty Tompkins
Hallwalls / 341 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo,
854-1694 / hallwalls.org