Painting about art history is plentiful. Finding painters who address human history is harder. David Wetzl is one of the few who do. He’s spent the better part of two decades unwinding in pictures the knot of human consciousness. He uses the isms of art history to represent the waxing and waning of all the other isms (social, political, philosophical) that have brought us to our present state.
Wetzl is not a simplifier. His paintings are multi-layered schematic diagrams overlaid by color-coded symbols and swatches of art-historical styles that represent competing modes of thought. From paganism and animism to monotheism and pantheism, and from collectivism, capitalism, Modernism, Postmodernism and points beyond – his paintings describe, in a Pop Surrealist mode, a tug-o-war between competing ideologies and belief systems.
A core belief of the artist is that all such systems, regardless of their age, continue to exert influence, as if passed on genetically. His paintings map their influence on culture and on his own idiosyncratic thinking, which is heavily influenced by the pop philosopher Ken Wilber.
In these labyrinthine self-referencing compositions, which recall the work of Lari Pittman and David Salle, the eye ricochets between grids, primitive masks, reoccurring ovoid shapes and other images (of stones, acorns, paperclips, waterfalls, lighthouses and industrial sites) that appear to have been sourced from magazines or the Internet. Some of the compositions are computer-generated. Others are hand-painted, while still others combine digital and manual methods. The show features some of the largest works Wetzl’s made in years and some of the smallest. Notable among the former is the epic 8-foot panel De-dub is Viewing Global Elements that are Reluctantly Evolving Beyond the Mod and Pre-Mod Realm. Other highlights include: Pre-Mod and Post-Mod Mind and Body, a shaped panel that has framed images embedded in it, and S.C.I.P. is an Integral Ego Connecting and Relating Between the Inner Consciousness Universe and the Outer Cosmic Universe, a wall installation on panel to which the artist has affixed wooden disks, painted to look like 3-D pie charts.
The thread connecting these seemingly unrelated accretions is computer technology, evidenced by the persistence of grids that resemble circuit boards. Tagged as a cyberpunk in the early ‘90s for his incorporation of such imagery, Wetzl, by continuing to do so, reasserts his belief that technology will save us. I don’t share his faith, but the graphic force of his arguments remains visually compelling.
Kim Squaglia’s paintings on resin, which hail from the abstract side of Surrealism, are downright spooky. Consisting of shot-through monoliths surrounded by strands of confetti-like lines, they bring to mind what a Clifford Still painting might look like if it were shredded and recomposed.
She achieves this effect by applying oil onto layers of resin, each at different depths, so that space isn’t an illusion; it’s a concrete fact. Thus, crater-shaped areas assume the dimensional contours of topographic maps. Gaps between these forms and the dark luminous grounds that surround them she bridges with skittering, asymmetric lines that literally bore into the picture plane. Taken whole, Squaglia's oeuvre feels like a pipeline to the underworld.
The only problem is the character of the resin. The reflective sheen makes the work appear decorative when it's not. However, in other places her painting really does take a decorative turn, and not in a good way. We see it in small paintings where scallop shapes and floral patterns predominate.
Given their stylistic differences, it might not be easy to see a connection between Wetzl and Squalia, but it’s there. Both use Surrealist mannerisms to explore subconscious forces: Wetzl in the transmission of ideas, Squaglia in the activation of dark, shape-shifting dreams.
–DAVID M. ROTH
David Wetzl: “S.C.I.P Told Me: Ego-Art” and Kim Squaglia: “Chromautonomy” @ JAYJAY through December 22, 2012.