PATRIARCHS|MATRIARCHS, the latest offering at Twin Kittens, marks the Atlanta solo debut of Georgia-born, New York-based artist Dale Inglett. While Inglett’s choice of materials ranges from oil, gouache, and oxides to polypropylene paper and video, each of his spectral images are gleaned from a unified source: vintage family photographs, taken as the 19th century was optimistically bounding its way into the arms of the 20th. The tension is not merely temporal: An engaging pendulum oscillates between the polarities of surface and subject. Inglett’s pedestrian figures are transformed, abstracted, and ultimately elevated into a sublime narrative of materiality in this series of work.
Inglett’s intention, according to the gallery’s website, is “to challenge the fixed quality that photos seem to attach to identity and to get at something more ineffable than likenesses ….” He continues, “I’m replacing the ‘proof’ presented in photos with a reimagining, a fiction, the unknown.” Indeed, photographic truths are here irreconcilable, and identity is claimed in name only. Oil, acrylic, and oxides congeal in Wyle Edward and Savannah Ross Cawley as the eponymous busts are hemmed in by identical ovals, suggesting a panel-painted locket. In Jack, Kelly, thoughtfully edited details punctuate swaths of muted hues which expand and isolate themselves into pure form before reconvening into the frame as landscape, fabric, and sky. Sumptuous burgundies illustrate early photography’s tyranny of stillness in Untitled (family). The careful viewer will notice Inglett engaging his materials to reference the processing anomalies which mark the technological fits and starts of the history of photography.
Using the humble family photograph as a starting point, Inglett upends the premise that the mechanically-reproduced image is devoid of aura. (Click here for a full, free English translation of Walter Benjamin‘s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”) Contemporary critics and academics alike have challenged misguided notions that photography and aura must abide in opposition to one another. Inglett’s work is as good an argument as any to dispel poorer interpretations of the Benjaminian canon. In the process of mining banal source material, the artist has opened up a series of meditative, poetic moments. Such moments are ushered in by a sticky, viscous materiality.
Viewers are well-advised to give these works ample time to unfold before their eyes. Inglett’s experiments with family portraiture result in often-unsettling depictions of the human form. These unsettling transformations risk misreading; one could quickly dismiss the works as a sophomoric critique of sentimentality, written in the shorthand of monstrous abjection. During the three-and-a-half-minute video Patriarch, Matriarch, Inglett chronicles the process in which the images of his monoprint diptychs of the same name were created. As Inglett’s human forms mutate, it is tempting to reach into a limited visual library for a reference point, only to stumble over territory where Dorian Gray shares close quarters with Disney World’s Haunted Mansion apparitions and Vincent Price burlesques of Poe. But to stop at these camp-riddled references would be a mistake.
In time, the video, like Inglett’s still images, reveals itself not as nostalgia dressed in gothic spectacle, but as an insistently contemporary homage to process and materiality — properties uncommonly associated with reproducible mediums. The colors spill, flow, and transfigure, evincing an unmistakable fascination with the control factors inherent in the artmaking process. Carried along by the narrative of the material, the music of Lily Wolfe (composed and recorded for the exhibition) invites the viewer to surrender to the promenade of paint as it seeps into and shifts over a landscape of polypropylene, obscuring the primary figures into a series of eddies that puddle, then retract, into rivulets of blue, gray, green, and white. Less disfiguration than meditation, the viewer is, quite literally, watching paint dry. Inglett is rare in that he is able to make such a banal prospect appealing.
The exhibition PATRIARCHS|MATRIARCHS by Dale Inglett continues at Twin Kittens through March 12, 2011, with an artist talk on Saturday, March 12, at 2PM.