EXPERIMENTATION IS NOT FOR THE BIRDS:
Round Robin Group Show at L.A.’s Roswell Space – A Review
By Mat Gleason
Four artists found a way to defeat the predictability of the contemporary art group show. Instead of showing up with backlogs of studio inventory and enlisting a curator to edit it all in equal amounts, these four agreed to hang a few original artworks each and then to collaborate on some pieces together. Each of these collaborations was worked on by one artist (during the 2020-21 lockdown) and then sent ahead in the chain via the post office.
The result of this unique approach is a unified exhibit that has a rhythm to it; repeated elements, formal approaches, color choices and imagery echo in every corner of Roswell Space, the cool alternative gallery hidden down a semi-industrial cul de sac near where Glassell Park meets South Glendale.
Our emotional connection with the botanic has been the central theme in the career of painter Jill Sykes. Her individual works here are recognizable to anyone familiar with her signature style. In the collaborative artworks, she contributes riffs on the emotive passion carried by the earth’s flora. These passages prevent the collaborative works from becoming pure abstraction, grounding them with some distant connection to landscape as an art of optimism.
Printmaker Denise Kraemer imbues 2-D wallworks with the tactile. Her work has a long history of extolling the virtues of refined sensuality, and of the inescapable reference to pleasures of the flesh for which textured surfaces stand in. Some of the collaborative pieces have a bird added by Kraemer – is it a robin? the round robin? Their poignancy veers into the macabre; this alone is impressive if only in an art scene where depictions of anything with feathers is usually an insincere agitation for commercial success. Kraemer’s signature birds are dead on their backs – decidedly not pretty, an allegory about artistic integrity if one thinks too long about it.
The veteran Southern California abstract painter Kerry Kugelman decamped to Washington state just prior to the lockdown but the exacting ambiance of his pictures endures. His two paintings – each titled “Reunion” – hint at the closeness we maintain despite distance – a reflection of the show’s very premise. In the collaborative pieces he places abstract passages that formally assist the overall composition without ever interfering. They oscillate between appearing wispy and asserting a deep, almost cosmic weight.
The process and pattern painter Karen Ruth Karlsson is represented with two lean, beautiful works in her signature encaustic. Recently infatuated with the forms and shapes of origami, her pictures are the height of elegance with a physical surface presence that is the visual equivalent of sincerely whispered affirmations. Her contributions to the Round Robin collaborations are more than just textured passages of her waxy pigment with a memorable color selection that unifies the disparate elements and complements the overall picture. To make sure the collaborations are not identifiable in a cookie-cutter sort of way, Karlsson also printed birds in some of the works here. Unlike Kraemer’s, hers are upright, alive, and carry a certain menace.
Our current age is marked by the assumption that any art to be considered experimental is high-budget production work available only to the children of the one-percent slumming it on the art world’s international circuit. It is thus quadruply refreshing to see painters and printmakers playing with both risk and chaos in their collaborations. Radical gestures like these are the truest experiments and when conducted in the timeless medium of 2-D wallworks makes the experimentation all the more interesting as it hangs in such a familiar and literal frame of reference.
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