Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eric Gelber on Kelli Williams

Kelli Williams, Wet Bar, 2007

I posted Kelli Williams' painting, along with work by some other Leo Koenig artists, after seeing it at the Armory Show last month. Eric Gelber contributed so many thoughtful comments on Kelli's painting, too much to leave buried in the comments box... so I'm re-posting them here.

MUST STRESS - this is a series of thoughtful comments on a jpeg, not a formal review. Eric did not see the work in person. Eric's initial response was to an anonymous commenter critical of the accuracy of Kelli's perspective.

There is no consistent perspectival moment if the composition is looked at as a whole. It would destroy the logic of the composition if the artist used one vanishing point to bring coherence to the whole. The artist wants to fragment and compartmentalize space. This increases the isolation of each figure and each action. It is like a tableau. Within each individual segment the local space makes sense, a field that immediately surrounds each figure. A figure sits on the edge of the pool, another one sits on a bar stool, another one is resting her hand on the edge of the bar. This compositional technique emphasizes the isolation of each figure. They are self contained monads, pleasuring and obsessively gorging themselves. It is a symbolic ode to masturbation and self indulgence.The artist is using a panoramic device. The separate little worlds the figures inhabit are interlocked to form an odd montage image.

Each figure in Kelli's painting is going through an internal process. The figures that are gorging themselves are perhaps meant to represent self destructive behavior or the compulsions/impractical rituals that plague individuals. The other figures are lost in their minds or bodies.

They writhe, stare into space. The bartender is the only figure that directly addresses the viewer and the rest of the figures do not acknowledge one another or the viewer. Figures are whole and fragmented. Some of them are asleep, one looks pregnant. They are practicing mysterious rituals.

The variety of poses suggest stages of life. There is a variety of mental states represented in this one painting. (The figures are wonderfully rendered.) They have a corpse like palor though and this again suggests death.

Also the one male figure in the painting is the bartender, the one who serves intoxicants, and he holds a trident like the Greek god Poseidon. Obviously this references pagan culture, but in the setting of a bar/contemporary swimming pool this is humorous, but also a clue as to what the artist wants to tell us about contemporary life.

The bar itself looks pixilated, like it is made from binary code on a computer monitor, and the painting does very interesting things with ideas of flatness and depth. There is no easy way to figure out the pictorial space.

Lingering thoughts about "Wet Bar":

Poseidon, and his underwater realm, is one of the subjects of this painting. The greenish figures are supposed to be underwater. The figure seated at the bar, with her bosom, shoulders, and head and neck above water give this away. Here lower half is submerged and most of her upper torso, which is flesh colored, is above the water line. So the watery depths represent the human unconscious, but interestingly, the figures above the water line are just as transfixed as the figures that are submerged in the water.

The strange entrail/snake like coils that come out of the vaginas of two of the figures are strange, ambiguous symbols. The woman who is suckling or drinking from the end of one of the umbilical cords/green ropes is either slowly becoming colored or her mid-section is evaporating. She comforts/pleasures herself by grasping a handful of her own hair. The idea that a woman's umbilical cord could be used for self nourishment is an interesting idea. The underwater flora and fauna and various sea creatures, rendered carefully and realistically is a very nice touch, as are the air bubbles floating towards the surface.

So there is the clear portrayal of two distinct realms, above and below water. The figures are lost in strange reveries. Poseidon addresses and identifies with the viewer (while sporting a small boner). But instead of ruling over the female figures he is serving them. Human ritual, human ecstasy, orgiastic pagan ceremonies, feminist recontextualization of female nudity and sexuality, human transformation. The female figures below the water have transformed into mermaids or are in the middle of doing so. After they become mermaids they fall into a coma like sleep. So the transformation from human to mythical half human/half animal creature is also a subject of this painting. What are the psychological implications of this transformation? The painting style and formal devices employed by the artist fully enhance the idea content of the painting.

I like the way the painting morphs and blends the textures of digital imagery and classic mosaics. It straddles the two really, which emphasizes your recontextualization of pagan and mythological imagery. One should also note the play on words in the title. A wet bar is a place in the home where you can mix drinks, and it usually contains a sink with running water. We all obviously know about vaginas and wetness. The painting is all about mixing realms, the real and the mythic, flatness and depth. It has great mystery and that is hard to find in contemporary work.

See all of Eric Gelber's reviews for Artcritical here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the dose of positive sentiment Martin. I was feeling down in the dumps lately (more on that over at my blog. Congratulations Kelli! Great work.

kelli said...

Eric does write really well. Sometimes I feel like I'm working in a vacuum when I'm in the studio alone so it was helpful reading those comments.
Also Martin I have to say I was having a conversation with Barnaby about this and you write very well too. Basically the gist of the conversation was that you take the time to really look at things and try to understand what the artist was thinking without imposing your own perspective on them. You manage to write about a broad range of work without seeming like you are being patronizing or just trying to be inclusive. In that respect I think you are actually ahead of some people who do art criticism professionally. We kind of have different taste and I think you like installation art and minimal sculpture more than me but sometimes I find myself giving things you write about a second change because of what you appreciated about them.

Anonymous said...


I am not sure if any human is capable of writing about art objects "without imposing" their "own perspective on them."

I usually get shit sandwiches served to me as an art critic (as do most art critics). Meaning I am almost never paid for my work and it is usually done in a complete vacuum. I get zero feedback except for the occasional disparaging remark on a blog comment thread. I occasionally get emails from artists I write about but these are exceptions to the rule. And as you know most art world people consider art critics to be somewhere between pederasts, the mentally disabled, and fascist dictators, on the value scale.

My art criticism rests entirely on the act of encountering the work. I think comparisons to other work or pseudo historicism are both the weakest aspects of the genre and I certainly have no one to impress. I also do not hold a position in academia so that greatly inpacts the writing as well.

Martin does an excellent job presenting to his readers art that is ignored by the mainstream art press and much that appears in the world completely outside the art world, and he provides insightful commentary on all of it. He also writes insightfully about a variety of art world issues, and often he is the only one out there writing about it. Anyone who brings attention to the majority of art that is made and displayed and gets completely ignored is noble.

Rock on.

Anonymous said...

impact not inpact. Maybe that is why I don't work in academia.
By the way, thanks for the compliment Kelli. I don't mean to sound bitter and defensive. It just gets tiring to hear over and over again that art critics suck. There are about thirty or so full-time art critics in this country; people who can work at nothing but their craft. Needless to say, I ain't one of them.

Martin said...

kelli - thanks, and to barnaby. i needed to hear something like that.

eric - thank you to you as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Martin I checked out http://www.bromirski.blogspot.com and I was really impressed. It was good to see some of your paintings close up rather than at a distance because you can really make out the subtleties of the colors and textures. Your paintings have this timeless quality. They are abstract representations of celestial events. Shapes and colors interact seemingly with intent but it is a mystery what these actions and gestures mean. The circle has so many connections to the organic and non-organic realms, the history of religion and architecture. Of course perfect circles don't often appear in nature, if ever, so the geometry you use off-sets any associations the work has with the organic world as we know it. But the blended and overlapping colors, the nuanced tonal shifts and beautiful juxtapositions, suggest artifice and manufactured goods. But when the whole surface coheres it is as if we are looking at shifting skies from the surface of an alien planet. The circles you use, in my mind, symbolize ideas or concepts, nothing specific mind you, but enclosed entities, be they ideational or things in the physical world.

Anonymous said...

The circles in your work also remind me of the transparent orbs (even though they are opaque) one sees when looking at the sun. They look like floaters and spots, backfirings of the retinal apparatus. And this again combines concepts of inner and outer space. It is interesting to see that you used to do landscapes, mountainous terrains with turbulent skies. These circle paintings and the paintings in which you have a material weave in and out (literarily) of the picture surface are metaphysical landscapes. They depict and describe unknown places. At the same time, your use of the circle and foreign materials underline the thingness of the painting.

Carla said...

I would never have come close to an appreciation of this painting without Eric's description (from a JPEG, no less).

I agree that Martin also 'opens eyes' in that he shares his receptive nature well.

Great post get sucked into. Back to skimming...

Anonymous said...

The paintings I am writing about can be found here.

Anonymous said...

There is a genuine tension present in your work, between objectness and depiction of atmospheric effects and interacting forces or abstract entities. They suggest the birth and/or death of worlds, a pre or post-human environment. The circle paintings in particular remind me of images of deep space phenomena captured by the Hubble telescope. Dark matter swallowing up galaxies, suns being born and dieing.

The other paintings, where some fabric or other material pierces/punctures the picture surface, and violates the illusion of pictorial space, are more violent, but you consciously choose the coloration of the found objects that penetrate and weave in and out of the painting surface. So these elements are painterly as well, but they are essentially disruptive. So there are definitely contradictory urges present in your work.

Anonymous said...

What an incredibly thoughtful and insightful analysis. Thanks Martin and thanks Eric and thanks Kelli for the painting!

Barnaby said...

One day Eric.. you HAVE to see Kelli's work in person. In-fucking-credible. Definitely a case for how vast the difference can be between jpeg and actuality.. EVEN with work you adore.

Now someone go say that about me on Paintersnyc.


Martin said...

eric, THANKS! so much of what you have said hits the nail on the head, and articulates what i'm thinking. VERY helpful to read what you are processing.

"the circles symbolize ideas or concepts, nothing specific mind you, but enclosed entities, be they ideational or things in the physical world"

"suggest artifice and manufactured goods"

"your use of the circle and foreign materials underline the thingness of the painting"

"There is a genuine tension present in your work, between objectness and depiction of atmospheric effects and interacting forces or abstract entities"

"The paintings where some fabric or other material pierces/punctures the picture surface, and violates the illusion of pictorial space, are more violent, but you consciously choose the coloration of the found objects that penetrate and weave in and out of the painting surface. So these elements are painterly as well, but they are essentially disruptive. There are definitely contradictory urges present in your work"

ERIC - do you know about paintersnyc, referenced by barnaby? it's at http://painternyc.blogspot.com/

kelli was on there 1/2006 -

barnaby is on there now -

Anonymous said...

Yes Barnaby there is no doubt in my mind that seeing paintings live is different from seeing digital images of them. I wouldn't argue this and I think it is universally accepted by most visual artists that this is the case. However, I do think you can have legitimate and meaningful experiences seeing digital images of real world objects. I wouldn't want Kelli or Martin to think I was pulling this stuff out of my arse. I would definitely have more insights into the work if I saw it live and was able to speak directly with the artist. I know paintersnyc. I left a comment on Katy Moran’s painting using a pseudonym. Martin I will post at least one more comment on your work tomorrow when I am at work.

Anonymous said...

Barnaby I really wanted to see your show when I was in NYC a few weeks ago but I failed to do so. Eventaully I will see your stuff live. I look forward to it.

Martin said...

okay, i am eagerly waiting, but i might have to add you to my bibliography.

about that site i am making for my stuff... it's not done yet.. i'm still figuring out exactly how i want to do it. i think i'm going to add more stuff to it.

and yeah, of course everything is better experienced in real life... i like how those paintings look from the sides, because i do them mostly flat and a lot of stuff pours over the sides, and some are wrapped and tied with other fabrics that are unpainted on the sides.

plus, on the internet they're cropped so straight along the edges, but really are wobbly/uneven/crusty.

Anonymous said...

There are many components of the work that are completely missing from the digital images of them. It is an incomplete experience. To fully experience the art you must see it in person unless the artist created the work specifically for the computer monitor. Martin we should try to set up a studio visit for this summer. The same goes for Barnaby and Kelli. I would have to visit the studio, do an interview (which I would record), take a few digital photos, and then go back home and try yo put together a worthwhile studio visit piece that I can submit to David Cohen over at artcritical. You guys should let me know where your studios are and what your summer schedules are like. I get off work for the summer on June 26.

Anonymous said...

Feel free to contact me at ericgelber@artcritical.com.

Barnaby said...

I just want to state for the record.. I wasn't coming from the stand point no one understood how much better things are compared to jpeg just strictly saying in relation to Kelli that while you can have a great even visceral reaction to a jpeg of her work .. in person.. well.. it felt almost like a physical punch.. and I was surprised because I felt I knew those pieces already..

definitely just sayin' it in a -"Well if ya think ya love them now way just wait til ya..." way-

Anonymous said...

I thought that was what you meant Barnaby. Sorry if I didn't sound like I felt that way. Get in touch about the studio visit and I will contact my editor David Cohen and see what we can do. Later...

Barnaby said...

coo' just makin' sure..

sounds like a plan...

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Anonymous said...

Wow! Eric Gelber is a genius.

Anonymous said...

I felt guilty so I will confess. That last comment was mine.

L for loser.

pcsolotto said...

I agree with you about these. Well someday Ill create a blog to compete you! lolz.

eastwich said...

Sounds to me like all Mr. Gelber does is whine.