Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Fast and Loose Play of Planes: Claudia Chaseling at Slag

Claudia Chaseling: Infiltration at Slag Contemporary

July 13 to August 30, 2012
56 Bogart Street, Unit 005
Brooklyn, 212 967 9818
Thursday to Saturday, 12-6pm

Installation shot of the exhibition under review.  Courtesy of Slag Contemporary
Installation shot of the exhibition under review. Courtesy of Slag Contemporary

Claudia Chaseling’s small but ambitious show consists of a video, a handful of canvasses and a large, vaguely squid-shaped wall painting that appears to be divulging, or perhaps digesting, a number of discrete miniature paintings from within its unruly parameters. Strong looping forms, deadpan-color contrasts and decisive execution formally define an exhibition that initially seems engaged in a playful riff on contemporary abstraction. The more slowly absorbed narrative and imagistic elements of the show point, however, to an unexpected cluster of concerns: chance, anomaly, violence and the imaginings of post-apocalyptic experience.

Infiltration is one of those rare cases where a show consisting primarily of two-dimensional works is enriched by the addition of a video – a curatorial gesture that can often feel like an eager-to-please nod to newer media.  In the video, Murphy the Mutant, the hands of the artist turn the pages of a picture book of her own making. The book recounts the story of a gentle, genetically aberrant multi-legged creature, Murphy, born of normal parents into a Middle-Eastern, war-torn setting. Murphy is, in a matter of a couple of page-turns, projected through escalating global violence off the earth’s surface and into an interplanetary voyage. His physical journey is, as is suggested by the straightforward prose of the narration, accompanied by a parallel emotional exploration into extremes of loneliness and isolation.

Claudia Chaseling, Infiltration, 2012.  Ink egg tempera and oil on canvas, 78-3/4 x 59 inches.  Courtesy of Slag Contemporary
Claudia Chaseling, Infiltration, 2012. Ink egg tempera and oil on canvas, 78-3/4 x 59 inches. Courtesy of Slag Contemporary

The video is a poignant, if peculiar, piece on its own. In the context of the show it serves additionally as a key to accessing the two-dimensional pieces. Chaseling’s paintings and drawings, some of which are on rounded supports, simultaneously invite readings of purely abstract shape scenarios as well as of landscape, usually that of a craggy, volcanic or other-worldly sort. Fluorescent colors and jagged edges dominate, and liberal use is made of strips, stripes and bold outlines. Chaseling’s fast and loose play of planes often alludes to recessive space, but her forms more often than not (and usually at their best) push urgently against the picture plane, articulated by  brushstrokes which vibrate and appear almost to jump away from the very shapes they are meant to delineate. This restless instinct is fully vented in works like High Plane Escape (2011) and Virtual Escape (2012) where solid black forms extend from the canvas outwards onto the wall and daringly onto the unvarnished wood of the gallery floor. It’s hard not to think, when viewing these outward-bound shapes, projecting from the painting’s like emissaries or orange-pips, of poor little Murphy’s skyward trajectory.

There is of course a tradition of “painting away from the canvas”, from the playful off-frame whimsies of the baroque and mannerist artists through to Fontana to Stella. More recent variations of the approach tend to draw from a modernist challenge of the conventions of the form, often powerfully – and cerebrally – questioning expectations of illusionism and representation. Chaseling, by contrast, seems to be working from a less self-conscious motivation. Her hors-piste maneuvers refreshingly appear to spring from a spontaneous, if anxious, impulse to shift the impact of the painting beyond the restrictions of the canvas’s home base.

One possible interpretation of Infiltration is as a subtle expression, through stories and paint, of the once-romantic notion of the isolated journey – the sublime and terrifying experience of traveling beyond all knowns. Collectively the works in the show seem evocative of utopian and dystopian worlds, alternately inviting and threatening, as well as of the possibility, or necessity, of physical movement between them. It might be noted that the inventive thematic Chaseling here presents might have been strengthened by greater attention to pictorial variety and formal sensitivity – for all of their voltage the colors and shapes of the works sometimes cancel each other out to dulling effect. Taken as the unified entity Infiltration seems intended to be, however, the show leaves a powerful impression of an artist addressing difficult issues in a process of piecing together and striking out.

Claudia Chaseling, Rat, 2012.  Egg tempera and oil on canvas, 35-1/2 x 31-1/2 inches.  Courtesy of Slag Contemporary
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