2016 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards Exhibition brochure
If you’ve ever overlooked it, there’s a chance Madeline Gallucci has turned it into a pattern.
She sees mischief in cryptic messages, such as utility scrawls upon sidewalks, signifying something important but revealing little to the casual viewer. Or in repeating colors in nature that have been co-opted by humans to appropriate the original meaning, like certain hues of neon. Gallucci recycles patterns she picks up along the way, giving them new life in the context of her own conceptual meditations. One of the reincarnate forms a Gallucci pattern becomes is in the body of a cell phone case. In this scenario, the work transcends the gallery walls and evolves into an element of ubiquitous connectivity.
However deep the examinations, it all begins with Gallucci’s diurnal observations. Her influences can be as grand as architecture and as mundane as old gum pressed into the sidewalk, and the work oscillates between these extremes. Inspiration from the finery of diverse subcultures—airbrushed motorcycles and fondant cake—assists to communicate a distinct brand of luxury. Themes of decoration and excess go to work in every Gallucci piece, to varying degrees of impact on the viewer. Dense swatches of color overlay their own backgrounds, repeating busily until a chunk of pattern develops its own identity, claiming ownership over its assigned medium. The Confectionary series makes purposeful connections to the delicate and frivolous construction of fashionable desserts. Each painting, like a sprinkle-crowded surface of a cake, elicits the help of sugary colors to draw the viewer close. A similar approach in the Soft-Serve series manifests as smaller pieces on accessibly sized 8.5״ x 11״ construction paper. Gallucci’s art has a pattern of becoming more ambitious, riskier, as it expands in size and materials. The saturated information is driven home by the serious lack of blank space on the canvas. Small paintings are intimate yet supply a steady stream of color in jostled layers, and large tapestries offer a material diversion that aims to consume.
Glimpses into the twitches of color beneath the foreground only drive the viewer further into the conceptual process. Rounding up Gallucci’s heady ideas from the conceptual prototypes of her sketchbook to a final product is a task well suited for the patient artist. It’s clear Gallucci delights in what she does, unable to resist constructing layer upon layer until the image has reached around the canvas (around, in the case of her hotel residency, an entire room). Similar to a Jackson Pollock painting, images feel hastily applied but are carefully scrutinized throughout the studio process. It is possible to feel overwhelmed with this constant information, as Gallucci’s viscerally impactive colors leap and squiggle and evade capture. A percentage of her audience is repulsed by the work, evidencing a heightened state of anxiety or disgust after staying in her immersive Artist in Residence room at Hotel Phillips. “People have the strongest response to shades of red,” Gallucci says of her color choices. There is a feeling her work can penetrate and course through a healthy body, like a resistant strain of flu, smearing our tame physical state with buoyant parades of color and form.
Rodolfo Marron’s enchanting installations transform the gallery into a cozy space. Domestic elements, well suited for home shrines, find a new context on display in the intimate formations that link the artist’s past and present. Marron’s unique mythology—which includes departed creatures, color-changing plants, and memories of his childhood—embeds itself in the household paraphernalia he brings to the gallery. Marron constructs stuttering images of the home interior against backdrops of vintage wallpaper and colors that echo the hues of his origins. Vestiges of a Southwestern landscape are painted or planted, and with a delicate hand the spirits of the land come to life. Ghosts of bygone days resurface to haunt the torn pages of books, some of which contain selected phrases Marron uses to connect with his family. Cutout hands—so slight they are almost invisible—lift up to the viewer in a collective plea to return to the temporal realm, but are repeatedly denied. Authenticity appears as a commodified product in the form of potted succulents and reclaimed lace. Watercolor cacti are repigmented to reflect the dyes used to commercialize and redistribute region-specific botany, one of the few direct cultural criticisms in Marron’s recent work. Disembodiment and relocation are central to Marron’s personal past as he adapts to the gentrification of his neighborhood and how his artistic practice sets him apart from his community. “I’m putting the pieces of the past and present together,” he says. “My work has always looked at the immediate present. Now I’m reaching back to where I came from.”
Marron’s interest in ceremonial living manifests in references to Amada Cardenas, the enigmatic peyote pioneer, and using spent incense to transcribe letters from his sister. Exchanges from their letters are copied onto pages torn from books. Original text, “Complex Human Behavior,” acts as a header for the following message in a gentle scrawl: “hi buddah, Just wanna start off with I love you and miss you” written with the charcoaled end of an incense stick. Other text composed with the makeshift pencil reads less like a personal letter between siblings and more like a sober reminder: “you mistook magic for love, and love for obsession.” What these accomplish in the gallery is a tender glimpse into a close bond between brother and sister, who came from the same beginnings but found themselves worlds apart.
A longing for domestic comfort and safety works itself into the space of Marron’s installation. From old wallpaper to the exact shade of turquoise on the interior of Marron’s childhood home, a portion of the gallery is transformed into a personal history. Pigmentation from native berries infuse the wispy images of flora and fauna, connecting origin to representation. A legacy of a family and heritage connects us to the artist on a deeper level, and rather than conceal the process of understanding his roots, Marron lets us in. His kinship toward the late Ella the Deer, a tame doe that resided for two years in the Elmwood Cemetery, is an appropriate affinity to describe Marron’s process of evolution. From ending up in an unexpected place to becoming a local favorite, Marron navigates the complexity of belonging, identity, and gentrification with all the love he can conjure.
In Vladamir Nabokov’s Signs and Symbols, the deranged son suffers from a fictional disorder called “Referential Mania,” which causes him to perceive everything around him as a veiled reference to his own existence, and that “phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes.” For Shawn Bitters, rock formations and volcanic eruptions are transmitters of information, possessors of their own personal dialogue. As outsiders and explorers, we in the audience stumble upon these new formations and are confronted with the task of deciphering the message. The unmissable desert landscape of Utah sparked Bitters’s ideas about his relationship with the natural world, and his affinity to it could be explained by a creation story from his Mormon upbringing. In the story, humans were designated to create the world and all its formations under God’s direction. As a child, Bitters says he thought, “Maybe I’m attracted to [the landscape] because I helped make it.”
Bitters is the first to admit his interest in geology borders on obsession. Every rock in the earth tells the story of itself and the location it was uncovered, and like a good geologist Bitters takes the time to study his inspiration to decide what medium best suits his purpose in the studio. The story of the earth is complex, in many languages, and multilayered. A multidisciplinary practice seems the only way to convey the complexity of geological phenomenon. Printmaking, photography, sculpture, and painting media all find a place in the work, and the language of the stones feels dictated by the chosen materials. Bold colors of the volcanic eruption differ from the cramped marks of an avalanche or the stoic perch of a boulder—evidence of the commitment Bitters feels to render these occurrences in an artistic language.
Bitters translates the letters of the English alphabet into stones that correspond to the geological activity of the art. Prose and image come together to ignite our curiosity of the natural sciences, and our reward for spending time with the work is in the phrase revealed through interpretation, ranging from intimate to obscene to frivolous. Sometimes the stone stanza message in the volcanic bombs—as they plummet from the sky in a trail of ash—is that of laughter.
The Icelandic Stanza series consists of prints on photographs taken while on an excursion to Reykjavik. Part of Bitters’s toolbox is a collected array of precious stones, which he scatters on the gridded ground among the loose gravel. There are many layers of narrative at work in these images, which include the natural landscape and the one Bitters imposes. A laser-cut key on the clear frame around the image invites the audience to decipher the message and complete the story. Without the exquisite color and composition of Volcanic Exclamations, the work would be lost somewhere between the realms of dry science and artistic élitism, where we would refuse to engage. Hand-dyed paper segues from dawn to dusk as the series advances. What emerges is a sense that the volcanoes are talking to each other, but it’s up to us to eavesdrop.