Saturday, January 18, 2014

My art review: Clara DeGalan's Joint Thesis Exhibition

"Freedom Varnish I" by Clara DeGalan which reminds me a bit of Mark Tansey's monochrome work.
Wayne State University will soon graduate Clara DeGalan and her work with two other soon-to-be graduates are in the Community Arts Art Department Gallery.

(I first met her when we both were trying to write more for things like, I also remember a nice piece of hers that I juried into a show at the Scarab Club before I realized that it was her work, so it was good to see how her work has been going since that time over 2 years ago.)

In her thesis exhibition we are confronted with impossible spaces, tricky angles, atmospheric perspective and mirrors, but mostly, we're confronted with a much appreciated playful looseness. The work showcases her ability to manifest content while simultaneously exploring raw mark-making and pushing her source material to be as challenging a composition as possible while still representational.

Her work is not overtly charged either politically, sexually or pop culturey (not a word...), but there are provocative works. In one piece you may be spending a minute or more to unravel the point of view but in another you feel as if you don't want to get caught staring too long at the subject. One image is a drawing of herself without a shirt on with what appears to be a bag on her head, the one next to it, a mother figure appears to be kissing a young woman emerging from a pool. The viewer starts goes from analyzing formal elements to winding up in an appropriately psychological head-space, this is a nuanced form of tension.

I immediately made two associations with her work, surprisingly both male, her trees reminded me of Mondrian's whereas the work with the kissing women titled "June 1982" seems to appropriate the stylized realism of artists such as Jack Vetriano to a much more satisfying use of elusive backgrounds and bold colors.

"Gray Tree" by Mondrian 1912
Large charcoal drawing by Clara DeGalan

Many of the marks in Clara DeGalan's large charcoal works are erasures. In every figurative work, the face is obscured. The locking eyes that are such a big part of self-portraiture is defied, Lacan's description of the "gaze" would seem to come into the equation, but I wouldn't say that the assumed viewer is male. The perspective of the viewer seems to meld into a feeling of introspection. The obscuring of reality and fragmentation through framing destabilizes a comfortable perspective even while one thinks about looking back at oneself in a mirror.

I then tried to think about how other young women artists or painters address self-portraiture in ways that are meant to give an insight into their psyche and I realized that as much as they tend to be unflattering, they tend to also be pretty funny and exhibit universal feelings of ennui.

There are Dana Schutz's self-portraits paintings and I think it's worth mentioning even Allie Brosh's version of herself in Hyperbole and a Half.

"Google" by Dana Schutz
Excerpt from "Depression Part 2" by Allie Brosh

They all share a necessary self-consciousness that puts us into their mindset, that it represents how they feel about how they look. I would argue it is a productive way to address being in no condition of being "presentable" so that we begin to examine the humanity of the artists.

I see this show as DeGalan not showing a culmination of everything she has ever done, nor is it the future of her practice as more likely we're merely taking a dip into a larger flowing body of work. Consider how she is a formidable force of self-improvement as she has been teaching at another school even while doing her graduate work, writing local reviews when she can find the time, but also doing the important work of contextualizing her own practice. I think that she is one of those artists who should bank on their confidence to use the years after grad school to actually keep exploring and changing rather than to nail a style and then start passing out business cards. Who knows what experiences will engage her work in one year, two years, or five, because it doesn't matter! She makes work look effortless, while at the same time her work demands that you to put in some effort to stop and examine what she's putting out there, it's a rewarding experience to piece together how she constructs her works, and I was happy to hear that she's also sticking around Detroit.

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