Scott Richter/Kurt Novak
Ferndale, MI 48220
5 March through 9 April, 2005
Within Revolution Galleryâ€™s walls, two of the longest performed practiced practices receive a decidedly modern (actually postmodern, in that the process of artmaking itself is up for exploration) twist. Scott Richter and Kurt Novak offer up their distinct takes on landscape painting and portraiture, respectively.
To call Richterâ€™s work landscape painting may be somewhat of a leap. He is known for his particular practice of exploring the medium of oil paint through the creation of pancake-like stacks of pure paint. That is, during each painting session he mixes a new color on his palette (with the addition of some thickening medium), allows it to sit long enough to congeal somewhat before building another layer of paint right on top of the previous. These sculptural objects (built on top of found tables) create a physical record of a painterâ€™s daily mixing ritual. Itâ€™s not paint as medium or tool, but paint as subject â€“ an object of desire tempting the visitor to dip a finger into its viscous, gloppy, sensuous form as if into cake frosting.
For this exhibition Richter presents several pieces made from the same layering process, the entire mass of which he has then sliced through revealing a gently shifting stratification of the pure color within the mound of paint. This smooth plane of color becomes in effect a backdrop â€“ a sky field reminiscent of those majestic landscape painters of the 19th century (before photography took hold). The painting table acts as a foreground â€“ with dollops of paint serving as features of the landscape. In â€œBig Skyâ€ an arid like table-surface (think plateau) is witness to a brilliant range of color shifting from red ultimately to blue at the â€œskyâ€™sâ€ peak. In â€œSome Marshâ€ a pulled out green drawer provides a different sort of ground for the cut-through sky.
With these pieces, Richterâ€™s work almost comes full circle (a revolution?), going from being about painting to becoming sculptures to making their way towards being paintings all over again.
Additionally, Richter offers a different sort of piece taking on the subject of circularity, â€œAttempt to Babel #4.â€ Here Richter has swirled, scraped, and sculpted the paint mass into a spiraling form that references both the style of â€œtarget paintingsâ€ championed by Jasper Johns, Kenneth Noland, and many others since, as well as the more illustrative drawings representing this metaphorical tower. The multiple colors that make up the spiral tower might represent the coming together of languages and peoples in a collaborative search for understanding. This quest mirrors Richterâ€™s own exploration of painting through process, and while they may reach great heights, like the tower itself, ultimately there remains far to go. The blend of history of painting, his own method, and the subject itself work together well â€“ creating a deliciously interesting object.
Cass Corridor artist alum Novakâ€™s large scale digitally printed portraits present a different take on photographic portraiture. First off they are achieved using the ubiquitous tool of the multi-media age, the flatbed scanner, as his recorder of choice. (More on this in a minute.) Novakâ€™s subjects are local (at least locally born) artists, musicians, and writers. Each portrait takes a look not just at the personâ€™s features but at a significant aspect of how they perform their creativity. For instance, legendary Jazz pianist Hank Jonesâ€™ portrait shows three hands â€“ the portrait has caught his hands in motion as they flew across the keys. MC5 Guitarist Wayne Kramerâ€™s face in the portrait is a jagged riff of movement as we might imagine him in action in concert. Painter Bob Wilbert is perfectly still in his piece, surrounded by the curious objects with which he creates his still lifes and own portraiture. Even collector Jim Duffy is here â€“ represented twice in his portrait, one with glasses on, the other without, but ever with a sharp and discerning eye.
For everyone whoâ€™s ever stuck their hand (or other body parts!) on the office copier, the squished against the glass appearance of his subjects has some of that same sort of novelty. But these are more than just about the process of â€œscanner artâ€ and become a rich way for Novak to portray his subjects. A word about the process: apparently the scanner takes about eight minutes to complete its pass. This means that Novak must coordinate his subjectsâ€™ movements and positioning, as a director orchestrates his actors. These effects of motion and double imagery, which might appear as if done on Photoshop, are in fact achieved taking advantage of the scannerâ€™s properties â€“ and represent a different way of photographer and subject working together. Novak manipulates the scanner in a way it was never intended and makes a unique means of portraiture possible in the process.
Landscape and portraiture may have been around a while, but as Richter and Novak demonstrate, it is clear that the ever-predicted ends of certain disciplines will never be reached, as there will always be fresh terrain to create and explore. â€“ Nick Sousanis