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December 2008, Christopher Pate at Jail Gallery

December 2008, Christopher Pate at Jail Gallery
Christopher Pate, New York City, 2008, coolage and mixed media on paper, 37 3/4 x 37 3/4 inches, courtesy Jail Gallery, LA

Chris Pate: Fly-Over
4 October through 8 November 2008
At Jail Gallery, Los Angeles 
By Shana Nys Dambrot

 

Los Angeles painter Christopher Pate has been working for some time on a prolific series of, for lack of a better term, map paintings—mixed media works in which found objects, especially vintage roadmaps and preprinted tourist memorabilia with the Monopoly-style landmarks and neighborhoods illustrated in loosely geographical order, are used as the physical and conceptual armature for a process involving painting, collage, printing, and drawing. It’s a classic more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts scenario, with endlessly pliable narrative and formal boundaries, groupings, subsets, and even sociopolitical impact. Fly-Over’s title seemed to suggest a series depicting the oft-overlooked middle of the American continent; however, except for pivotal installation of a pyramidal and largely non-narrative painting series, the exhibition exclusively featured images of New York and California. The central sweep of six canvases depicts gold-leafed brick walls below impossibly blue, welcoming skies rife with fluffy cotton clouds, themselves shaped and arranged like bricks, and representing brick-shapes in which a central wall of six in triangle in the wall are painted in gold leaf and the others retain the blue sky scenarios. That’s the metaphorical heartland and the literal midsection of the exhibition, but it’s also the self-consciously sentimental version of itself, containing no useful information on the shape of that part of the world, just that part of the culture. 
 
Some works are less ornamented than others, and some maps remain more or less functional, but each finds a balance between abstraction and figuration, at times both extreme and harmonious in juxtaposing strong lines and colors from the found graphics with the artist’s hand, like a bright red vee (added), deep green square (added) and dark blue triangle (a lake). It is wondrously strange how the cartographical forms so often echo not only the contours of what they represent—at a macrocosmic level, one of New York State in particular has a clear Venus de Milo image incidentally drawn by the area’s geography, and which Pate augments with romantic, saturated hot pinks and deep mauves. From there it’s a short, pleasant skip to the kind of florid, erotic Octavio Paz poems that metaphorically link the female body and the hillside, forested and canyon-rich topographies. 
 

Peeling back from the lyrical at the last minute, another New York piece cites Warhol’s famous dollar signs and chalk outlines, interlaid with squares of primary color, red, yellow, green, with a bit of Mondrian jazz, evoking suicide jumpers, and emitting an energy of panic perhaps unintended but certainly enhanced by accidents of timing, by the recent Wall Street crisis. Still, despite all that noise, it’s amazing how much it looks like a picture of New York City, not a map of it, with the red lines of major roadways embedded the eerily flesh-tinted landmasses looking for all the world like living tissue in the exposed core of the composition, encircled by peril. Meanwhile, the purported favorite of all the west coast literary types (including this author) was not the sexed-up, seductive, earthquake and movie star monument (though that was a sexy piece) but rather the deceptively straightforward Los Angeles map with nothing but pencil lines drawing modifying it. Its central map of LA is strangely monochrome, even subtle, drawn in that kind blueprint slate tone that’s both textured and cold. This pristine chart is crisscrossed by half a dozen loosely geometrical shapes, arcs mostly, of hurried, frantic, lines, not in webs but in psychotic rainbows. Besides being elegant and expressive, this image perfectly both highlights and obscures and the experience of traversing LA’s highways and byways, elevating it to a formal, economic exercise tracking the energy of a people, rendering it witty and rather beautiful, in a narrative mirror to Abstract Expressionism that transcends the literal and goes beyond the metaphor to become, in its own right, that which it also represents. These maps are not of the place, they are the place; not pointing a way to a place, but embodying the very destination itself.
 

 

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Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for Whitehot Magazine, Contributing Editor to Art Ltd., and a contributor to KCET’s Artbound, Flaunt, Huffington Post, The Creators Project, Vs. Magazine, Palm Springs Life, Montage, Desert Magazine, LA Review of Books, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes loads of essays for art books and exhibition catalogs, curates and/or juries a few exhibitions each year, sometimes exhibits her photography and publishes short fiction, and speaks in public at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. An account of her activities is sometimes updated at sndx.net.

 

Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff

 

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