Mason Saltarrelli: Port
Charles Bank Gallery
New York, NY
March 5 - April 7, 2013
In this day and age of hyper-connectedness—think texting, social media, and cloud storage—artist Mason Saltarrelli is something of a throwback. Leaving his canvas exposed to the elements to be stained, this natural background gives him a starting point for his intuitive approach of mythical mark-making. Is he a shaman? It’s hard to say, but some of his paintings certainly appear like they could channel spirits from another world. The paintings and works on paper that make up Saltarrelli’s solo exhibition, Port at Charles Bank Gallery take elements from Native American imagery, references to Catholic saints, pop culture, and a stream of consciousness narrative to form a satisfying, if cryptic grouping. There is a distinct sincerity to the work, which, despite its somewhat romantic quality, allows one to take pleasure in it and suspend disbelief. Without succumbing to a formulaic methodology, Saltarrelli is able to create compelling stand-alone pieces while leading to a series that has enough similarities in color and line to make sense together.
Saltarrelli leaves paintings like Dogs of War (2011–2013) open-ended so that we are not put off by its blunt title. In fact, it’s hard to guess any specific narrative, although one can make out the clear outline of a face among a series of circles, lines, and brushstrokes on a weathered backdrop. The minimal marks are evocative of drawing lines in the sand with a stick. Knowing that Saltarrelli spends some of his time in Montauk, New York helps the viewer to draw connections to his personal life and enter his world. The artist’s limited palette and for the most part basic outlines of forms, such as in Looking Fresh, Lucy (2013) which shows a woman’s head and yellow hair, are also reminiscent of prehistoric cave painting. With an economy of means, the viewer can fill in the gaps and come to their own conclusions.
Perhaps the most straightforward of Saltarrelli’s hieroglyphs is the gouache on paper Montauk Boatman, Row your boat (2012) which still retains a sense of mystery. It’s as if Saltarrelli woke up from a dream and immediately rendered this non-linear narrative scene of a man in a rowboat in front of a setting sun with the floating head of a woman overhead. Many of Saltarrelli’s works appear to be mere fragments of a larger narrative, such as Dondi White, CIA (2012). The title references the prominent New York-based graffiti artist Donald Joseph White who died in 1998, whose style influenced countless others who have taken the spray can in hand. A casket is seen in the upper left of the work on paper, while a smiling, snake-like form floats and overlaps the wooden deathbed. Paying tribute to the seminal artist in his own unique way, Saltarrelli avoids cliché and allows the viewer to contemplate the passing of an icon without reverting to stale nostalgia. Saltarrelli’s imagery is like picturing a novel in one’s mind; the outcome is far more satisfying than a Hollywood interpretation.
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Chris Bors is a New York-based artist and writer who received his MFA from School of Visual Arts. He has had solo exhibitions at Envoy Gallery in New York and Go North in Beacon, New York. His art has also been exhibited at MoMA PS1, White Columns, and Sixtyseven in New York, Casino Luxembourg in Luxembourg, Bahnwärterhaus in Esslingen, Germany, and Bongout in Berlin. He has written for Artforum.com, ArtReview, Art in America, Artnet.com, Modern Painters, Artinfo.com, Metropolis M, and Artillery and is the former Managing and Photo Editor for Artinfo.com and Museums. His guilty pleasures include thrash metal, hardcore punk, and professional wrestling. www.chrisbors.com