William Buchina’s Graphic Dreamscape and the Archive That Inspired It
Many philosophers and writers have compared the human mind to a physical space: for John Locke it was a “dark room,” for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a “little empty attic.” If the mind is a room, it’s fitting that William Buchina’s whimsical show at Garis & Hahn should occupy not one, but two.
A world traveler, science fiction fan, and self-described dreamer, New York-based Buchina is an artist with a lot of ideas—a lot of rooms in the mind, so to speak. “Time to Speak a Human Language,” his new solo show, curated by Max Teicher, serves as a window into them. Upstairs, the gallery shows the artist’s new paintings. Downstairs, his latest ink-on-paper works are installed with a selection of images and objects from his personal archive—“images from a wide range of periodicals, journals, publications, online images, some images the artist took himself, and objects that Buchina finds endearing, interesting, or exciting,” as Teicher told Artsy.
When Buchina commits to canvas (or paper, as the case may be), the results are fascinating. His pieces are beautifully rendered, crowded and chaotic—architectural spaces where hoards of people engaged in uncanny activities are gathered together. They work together on futuristic production lines, their faces obscured by masks and their bodies affixed with odd contraptions. On an initial appraisal, comparisons spring to mind. The high-contrast ink-on-paper works are reminiscent of M.C. Escher, while his collages recall Robert Rauschenberg. Is he channeling Salvador Dali or Ray Johnson? Is this a comment on the evils of technology and the oppression of women?
Buchina’s sources are wide and varied, mined from classic films, junkyards, and the World War II books of his youth to his personal impressions of Istanbul, a city where he lived for a time. Buchina’s dreams also play a role, nonsensical or terrifying as they may be. A fragment of a dream is manifested in “Time to Speak a Human Language,” in the downstairs gallery.
Singular scenes from the larger works in the show, laid out in a grid-style configuration, as in Time to Speak a Human Language 1 (2014), could be mistaken for frames of an artfully executed graphic novel. But on closer inspection, Buchina’s particular personality shines through. Some scenes and sections of his works look familiar at first—a man’s smiling face, a boat, a horse—but when you look closer, they’re nightmarish, even grotesque. Those are intestines, yes, and disembodied legs, human figures disoriented or writhing in pain.
These gridded works serve as a sort of entryway into the exhibition, and to Buchina’s practice. “When you first walk into the exhibition, and you see the first painting, you see this grid format—which is in many of the paintings—that forces you to see the work through the geometric form,” Teicher explains. “As you continue, you see less and less of this structure; the works become more open, more fluid, it’s very exciting.”
A cabinet of curiosities, the exhibition’s strength lies in its duality as a place to debut new works and to surface source material—it’s the perfect introduction to Buchina’s vast visual vocabulary. And that’s just what the curator planned: “When you go downstairs and see the installation and see his sources, everything he collects, you see the works upstairs in a bigger and better light.”
“Time to Speak a Human Language” is on view at Garis & Hahn, New York, Sep. 9–Oct. 10, 2015.