“Eric Sall: Drawing Paintings, Painting Drawings,” Haw Contemporary Crossroads

Eric Sall’s “Drawing Paintings, Painting Drawings” show of nine, mostly large scale abstract artworks, is the inaugural exhibit for the Haw Contemporary Crossroads Gallery. Sall, who graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1999 with an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth, is known for his bravura techniques and deliberately dissonant pattern-making.  This installation does not disappoint, as the paintings virtually explode off the wall.

Typically, Sall likes to mix decorative references with weighty, often intense, expressionist flourishes. Here, the Dionysius vs. Apollo matchup gets serious. The clashes are interesting, but this time Sall does something else with them.  There are two layers in each work, a bottom stratum of pastel stick drawings that Sall calls the “matrix” or “map,” and a top surface with a variety of painterly areas.

“Deluge 2” looks ominous, and suggests the power of a wildfire descending upon a bucolic fairground.  Other paintings, such as “One Thing and Another” and “Float On,” with their pastel waves and playful graffiti markings, are spirited and colorful.

The incongruity of Sall’s painterly juxtapositions evoke some of the major talking points of internet memes. In the recent MIT study “Memes in Digital Culture,” Limor Shifman notes that “The disintegration of the borderline between front and backstage regions stands at the core of many political scandals.” The blend between the two spheres in internet images, he writes, are created from “a carefully articulated, strategic exposure of a political backstage, presented frontstage.”  Internet users, he says, “use memes to articulate a collective critical response toward what they perceive as slick (cultural) manipulation.”

Notably, memes often appear frozen in motion, much as Sall’s paint marks look petrified atop moving undercurrents. Also, like memes, Sall’s paintings have the feel of playful pastiches or distressed commentary.  Images in memes often appear ludicrous, and many of Sall’s squiggle lines are on the silly side.

The main purpose of a meme is to provoke strong emotion. Another requirement, Shifman says, is that it must “give the appearance of a puzzle or problem that needs to be solved through creative responses.” There’s an ongoing dialectic in all of Sall’s artworks, but it’s up to the viewer to translate.

“Eric Sall: Drawing Paintings, Painting Drawings” continues through May 5 at Haw Contemporary Crossroads, 15 W. 19th St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more information, 816.715.4838 or www.hawcontemporary.com.

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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