Lively, Contrasting Shapes from Two New Mexican Artists

Apr 14, 2016 10:51PM

James Marshall and Aaron Karp live and work in New Mexico. Similarities between the sculptor and painter end there, however, at least on a surface level. They work in different mediums, and their practices have been shaped by different influences. Their work is on display side by side in a new exhibition at Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis. Though the pairing might not seem like an obvious one, their art—Marshall’s glazed ceramic sculptures, Karp’s vibrantly layered acrylic paintings—is surprisingly complementary.

Both artists focus on geometric forms. For Karp, it’s all about spheres and circles, tightly overlapping and crowded on the canvas. They’re overlaid with more angular shapes, like squares and rhombuses. Marshall’s shapes are likewise based in geometry, though he pushes the familiar forms into something more abstract, more reminiscent of biomorphism. “As I draw those shapes, and play with them, and work with them, and invite them to transform, they shift into something almost recognizable, yet not quite,” he has said. In turn, those drawings are the basis for his striking sculptures.

Marshall’s approach to ceramics is tied to his personal history. He began his own practice while serving in the Peace Corps in the highlands of Guatemala. There, living among a Mayan group called the K’iche’, he had a pottery apprenticeship in 1972. Later, after earning an MFA at the University of Michigan, he settled in Santa Fe. Indigenous influences, whether from Guatemala or the American Southwest, are readily apparent in his practice. Though his sculptures are colorful, they’re not painted; the glazing is integrated into the firing of each piece, as is the tradition in the region he now calls home. Some pieces, like Blue #270 (2007) and Black #401 (2015), call to mind various aspects of Native American culture—arrowheads, ceremonial jewelry, even adobe houses.

Karp’s work, on the other hand, is busy and complex. Even though the same shape is repeated over and over again, the color palette and geometric patterns vary, and the densely layered spheres seem to pop off the canvas. “Layering itself, I believe, makes up the central metaphor in my work, both literally and figuratively,” Karp has said. “The work is about concealing and revealing. It is about the fracturing of color and space.” Perhaps it’s this contrast—between Karp’s busy, bursting compositions and Marshall’s stark, singular shapes—that makes the exhibition such an intriguing one.

Bridget Gleeson

James Marshall & Aaron Karp’s exhibition is on view at Duane Reed Gallery, St. Louis, Mar. 25–Apr. 29, 2016.

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