Kayne Griffin Corcoran is pleased to present The Ocular Bowl, featuring works by Alex Olson, Agnes Pelton, and Linda Stark. The show brings together work by three cross-generational artists concentrating on ideas of vision and how it occurs beyond the eyes alone. Each artist brings a specific perspective to ideas of sight, from the physical act of seeing to inward and metaphysical explorations of mind and memory. The exhibition begins with historical works from the 1920s by painter Agnes Pelton and traverses through contemporary works by Alex Olson and Linda Stark. This will be the first time each artist has exhibited with the gallery.
The Ocular Bowl examines vision through physical manifestations of light and sight lines, metaphorical symbolism, and transcendental themes. The title of the exhibition is culled from a sentence in Jacques Lacan’s essay, The Line and The Light: “...the eye is a sort of bowl – it flows over, too, it necessitates, around the ocular bowl, a whole series of organs, mechanisms, defences..” The idea of the ocular bowl acts a metaphor for the overflowing basin of the eye that collaborates with other faculties to bring about vision. The imagery of the bowl also relates to Agnes Pelton’s use of receptacles to represent the mind or body, Alex Olson’s ‘mind’s eye’ vessels, and Linda Stark’s potion paintings in which paint acts as the container for the spell’s ingredients.
The works included build upon conflicting attitudes about belief. When one painter suggests that the artwork helps towards transcendence another approaches belief in a more skeptical way. Each artist has their own relationship to alternative forms of vision; they examine the conditions of sight through optical manipulation such as Pelton’s meditation compositions, Olson’s light traversing paintings, and Stark’s blurred use of abstraction and representation.
Agnes Pelton was a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG), a loosely organized circle of non-representational artists active in the Southwest during the late 1930s and early 1940s. They shared an interest in creating images that evoked “deep and spontaneous emotional experiences of form and color, a more intense participation in the life of the spirit” (TPG Statement of Purpose, 1938. Jonson Gallery Archives). Pelton had begun painting her nature-based abstractions in the winter of 1926 while living in relative seclusion in a historic windmill in the Hamptons and shortly after relocated to Palm Springs, California in 1932. Her compositions are derivative of unconscious sources, usually from meditative states that she referred to as ‘waking visions’ resulting in revelatory rather than self-referential themes. She often employed a hybrid of symbols, such as vessels represented in “Star Gazer” in the exhibition to represent her belief in higher consciousness within the universe.
For The Ocular Bowl, Alex Olson has produced five new paintings that continue an exploration on the expanded idea of sight. Each painting embodies a different experience of seeing: moving through light, engaging focus, testing metaphors, and self-imposed “blindness”. In one painting, a rendered square casts shadows and emits or reflects light - both sunrise and sunset - and requires the viewer to move to experience it fully. In another, a rectangular grid of bright, slightly raised dots lines the surface of the painting, interrupting a low-lit, piled up composition of fuzzy, interwoven shapes. The eyes shift focus between the two planes, toggling between one and then the other, but never both. Stretching the concept of a “vessel” used in a previous work, Olson sees these symbols as metaphors for the mind’s eye. Much as Lacan’s ocular bowl captures and contains, the vessels in these paintings hold visual building blocks, to be potentially called forth from the sea of impulses floating around the brain and poured out to form images in the world. Finally, as a test of memory and mimesis Olson includes a diptych made with eyes open and eyes closed. Brushes and paints were chosen blindly in order to bypass preconceived ideas of composition. The eyes-open painting is made first. Then using the same brushes and paints, the second painting is made with eyes closed while trying to ‘see ‘the first painting using memory (or the mind’s eye) as the guide. The work considers the eye’s line of sight as both outward and inward, alternating in the space of a blink.
Since the late 1980s, Linda Stark has pursued a shifting set of overlapping oeuvres, from figural ‘fleshscapes’, to textured abstractions, to magic potion sculptural concoctions. Concept and process are aligned as she investigates the physical properties of oil paint, building the paintings over a slow process of dripping and layering. Inspired by mystic and feminist ideas, Stark incorporates autobiographical perspectives as well as familiar objects and archetypes. For example, Brand, 2010 is a ‘fleshscape’, a solid oil bas-relief of a stylized navel, adorned with a brand of a flower and its accompanying welt. The five-petaled flower is derived from the geometry of a five-pointed star, which relates to the human figure, with the navel at the center. It is a charged area on the body where the connection to the mother is cut. Here it is presented as an eye that returns the gaze of the viewer. The painful branding is indicative of suffering while the navel as eye suggests empowerment. Stark’s Pyramid Paintings are illusionistic aerial-view pyramids composed of lapis lazuli, fluorite, rose quartz and amber. Similar to Pelton’s ‘waking visions’, Stark pulls from her mind’s eye vision of walking in pyramid parks built totally from gemstones.
From vision to sight, the works survey the many definitions and contrasting qualities of perception.
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