"The Best Art In The World"
Constance Mallinson: Unmade
Jason Vass Gallery, Los Angeles
June 10 – July 22, 2017
By LAWRENCE GIPE, JUL. 2017
Constance Mallinson’s latest work is a rare triumvirate of critique, formal rigor and wicked technical chops. In Unmade at Jason Vass Gallery, the artist manifests her disgust at consumer society’s profligate waste through the medium of painting, and the results range from intimate tableaux to epic panoramas. The larger works in the exhibition offer us nature morte in the deadest sense. Apocalyptic heaps of garbage, rocks and dead leaves march across yards of pictorial space, creating a rhythmic, non-hierarchical effect from a distance – imagine Monet’s Water Lilies gone to shit. And, what could be more non-hierarchical than a trash heap - one that literally smashes everything into a blur of objects drained of practical worth and individual meaning. The 17 foot-long The Large B-lasst, (2016) and Mountain (2017) are standouts. In the The Large B-lasst, (2016), the vividly colored bits of trash are freeze-framed as they tumble inside a turbulent tornado in a composition that conjures Pollock or late-20’s Miró. Up close, though, these are micro-managed masses: each piece of crap plastic has been given its proper due and attention.
In the smaller scale paintings, Mallinson pointedly tweaks the 17th-century vanitas tradition, creating “floral arrangements” of dead leaves with bright bottle caps standing in for blossoms. Mallinson refers to these historical precedents specifically in an accompanying essay (which is well worth a read), which chronicles her thought process behind the series in a charmingly distant third-person: “The discarded items in her paintings,“ she writes about herself in a typically pointed quote, “were entrancing and the repugnance she felt was not for the objects themselves but at Americans’ callous disregard for their own achievements and collective fate.” In regards to the vanitas sources: “She thought admiringly but warily of the 17th-century Dutch still life painters whose dripping pearls, richly detailed globes, moist peeling lemons, and gleaming chambered nautiluses glorified guilt-free empire, wealth, colonial conquest, the spoils of capitalism, Tulipomania.” Well, at least vanitas generally contained rotting fruit that symbolized the inevitability of death -- not a fly would alight on Mallinson’s mounds of lifeless plastic.
Exhibitions this powerful bring up the old arguments regarding the relevance of painting. News flash: it is. The obvious labor and time that Mallinson puts into her work is itself a strategy, a critical tool that provides a persuasive contrast to the vagaries of our cultures “toss it out” mentality. This artist provides an audience with retinal pleasure, and gets it right conceptually. In Unmade, Constance Mallinson gets have her cake, and eat it, too – she even gets to paint the wrapper it came in. WM
Lawrence Gipe is an artist, writer, professor and curator based in LA and Tucson. His work is represented by George Billis Gallery (New York) and Lora Schlesinger Gallery (Los Angeles). Gipe's writings have appeared most recently in SquareCylinder.com as well as Flash Art, L.A. Weekly and Artillery Magazine. Recent curatorial projects include "Everyone is Hypnotized: Artists Dérive the Bay Area" at ProArts Gallery, Oakland (May 2017) and "The Known Universe" at Root Division, San Francisco (March 2016). View all of Gipe's projects at www.lawrencegipe.com.
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