by Maria Porges
Over the last 25 years, Gay Outlaw ‘s elegant, inscrutable objects and images have continually subverted definitions, expectations and rules. An unrelenting inventiveness, often employed in tandem with a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for technical exploration, has led the artist to make some of the most unforgettably idiosyncratic work the Bay Area has ever seen.
Ozone, her current show, includes sculptures kiln-cast in glass, fabricated out of welded and painted bronze, and crafted out of wood or aluminum, as well as photographic works that incorporate cast glass elements. Several of the pieces in the exhibition inspire a kind of cognitive blankness: a feeling that the work being contemplated, though recognizable as art, is unlike anything previously encountered. Such a reaction stems partly from the mesmerizingly dissonant palette Outlaw often employs. The colors used in the eleven cast glass sculptures in the Meatloafsunset series, for example, are supposedly a kind of homage to Andy Warhol’s suite of sunset prints (thus, the name). In these, shades of cerise, turquoise, violet, avocado green and harvest gold transform these pâte de verre versions of a humble, all-American dish into some kind of demonic Other. Displayed in two rows on a subtly banked table, their waxy surfaces and candy-like hues trigger shadowy, slightly queasy memories of marginally edible childhood treats.
Food has often been both subject and material for Outlaw, who spent a year at a Parisian cooking school after college. Her work has included minimalist-inspired sculpture employing caramelized sugar, puff pastry or even fruitcake. Though the rectangular, modular shapes of the meatloafsunset series suggest that they are part of this larger project, they go further– beyond the droll humor of mille-feuille planks and sugar lattices or the homely coziness and traditions of fruitcake, to the unheimlich world of the uncanny – "where,” Jacques Lacan observed, “we do not know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure."
Outlaw’s new work is most compelling when it pushes towards this uncomfortable moment in which the everyday is transformed into the unknown, generating an experience that is unsettlingly enjoyable. Some of the singular works in Ozone exude this energy with particular vigor. Both Untitled (Pulpit), a u-shaped construction of stacked hexagonal wooden tubes, and Untitled (Kitchen Sink), an odd piece of cut and folded aluminum, are elegantly confounding. It’s hard to tell from what point one is meant to view either of these pieces, suggesting that there could be some kind of interactive experience even as their slippery forms elude easy reading, like one of Tony Smith’s manipulated polygons. But the award for Most Uncanny goes to a series of photographs in which Outlaw combines her two and three-dimensional proclivities. Low-relief puddles of cast glass are attached to the laminated faces of informal-looking color photographs. These snapshot-like observations, whether taken on the street or in her own home, point to a working process that is exquisitely and deliberately random. In each one, the glass merkin/empty caption balloon covers enough of the picture to prevent any certainty about what’s going on, placing responsibility for interpretation, of either image or elision, entirely on the viewer.
Some of these works are better than others — though, admittedly, that might be a matter of personal preference. A group of them are deeply compelling, spread out across the gallery wall like smoke signals drifting along a broken horizon. But the largest one, Untitled (Mottled Flow with Top Knot), hangs alone. Its proximity to the glass meatloaves — as well as its subject, a shining bun of honey blonde hair — suggests a funny, feminist and slightly perverse slant to Outlaw’s version of conceptual Minimalism.
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Gay Outlaw: “Ozone” @ Anglim Gilbert Gallery through October 14, 2017.
About the Author:
Maria Porges is an artist and writer who lives and works in Oakland. For over two decades, her critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Craft, Glass, the New York Times Book Review and many other publications. The author of nearly 100 exhibition catalog essays, she presently serves as an associate professor at California College of the Arts.