The name of Spruill Gallery’s group exhibition, Align, is playfully punned. A thought-provoking dichotomy of complex meaning and bare-bones honesty, Align celebrates the line as “the essence of drawing,” illustrating its versatility in painting, photography, writing, and sculpture. Thirteen artists evaluate the importance of line within their works and compose statements defining its significance. “The line speaks to me and tells a story,” writes Jeffery Merritt. “Whether it takes the form of a person, animal, or object, I feel that it is alive.” The show continues through its final day this Saturday, March 19, 2011.
In this exhibition, line is not just a simple component found in every medium: It is the soul of these works, and the emotion and energy these artists convey through the creation of lines channels a life force. Jeffery Merritt’s wire sculptures reflect the buzzing vitality found in being — they appear to be alive. His “horse” is quirky and its proportions are wacky, but each careful bend of wire transforms the figure into something animate and full-bodied.
Hanging alongside what’s traditionally defined as visual art, Blake Butler’s work exit method adds a sinister nuance to the exhibition and presents prose as a visual medium. In order to discuss poetry, plays, or prose, you need to reference a line of text. This dependence on line illustrates that its presence in written works is as important as it is in visual mediums. exit method uses line in both its physical format as printed, typographic letters and its abstract meaning to spin an entangling web. The focus of the excerpt, a character known only as “the son,” wanders through a grim landscape, unable to escape as phone lines, hairlines, and family lines tether him to the landscape. The text on the wall, which hangs as a single paragraph, pulls you into the work and leaves little room to breathe. With its layered meanings as tangled as a ball of yarn, exit method illustrates that prose can captivate an audience as successfully as visual form.
As I moved through Spruill and examined each work, the variation of interpretations impressed and engaged me. Photography, drawings, paintings, sculpture — even an Etch A Sketch drawing by George Vlosich III — are displayed in Align. Curator Hope Cohn provides Etch A Sketches as part of the exhibition, which add a serious overtone to this lighthearted work: Playing with the toy will remind you of the coordination and skill needed to draw even the most simple shapes. Vlosich’s dramatic montage of Muhammad Ali portraits seems over the top, but it’s the competence and skillful craft that warrants respect.
Rex Brodie’s sculpture Neo-Luddite Rebellion utilizes line to represent the spirit of a past event in a way that’s both clever and visually appealing. His sculpture doesn’t convey historical fact about the Luddites and their rebellion against mechanized industry; instead, Brodie uses line in his sculpture to convey the energy of the Luddite revolt. The smooth, rounded wood sculpted into looping lines represents the repetitive, monotonous motions of a loom, while the tentacles of metal propel themselves around and away from the rest of the sculpture. Even without knowledge of the Luddites, you’ll still be able to appreciate Neo-Luddite Rebellion on a visual level because the two materials composing the work are diametrically opposed in form. Conflict is apparent as unbridled metal recoils from and lashes out against restrained wood, driven by an invisible force.
An invisible force: This is what Align is all about. When you stand in front of Rocio Rodriguez’s paintings and see her bold, jagged brushstrokes, you can feel that moment of inspiration or maddening emotion that needs to be released. Julia Hill’s installation work Tidal Reoccurrence takes line beyond the medium and truly engages the viewer as you stand before it. Barnacle-like flowers extend their pistils outward, and at first glace they seem weightless and elegant, floating into the gallery space as if carried by an invisible air undertow. If you look a little closer, you’ll find that you’ve been deceived: The work is made of heavy materials including ceramic and nails. This is the composition that best works within the Spruill space. The drifting pistils lead you into the gallery and introduce you to the complexities of line while the negative space — the imperceptible current — creates the same invisible momentum seen in Rex Brodie’s sculptures.
A line is energy; it’s evidence of a swooping paintbrush, the scribbles of a pen or the sculpting and shaping of metal. Without the meticulous creation and application of this simple component, Jeffery Merritt’s wire sculptures would appear as stagnant stencils as opposed to quirky representations of buzzing life. Align is successful because it is straightforward, extolling clean form over fussy details.
(Disclosure: Hope Cohn of Spruill Gallery is a member of this publication’s Board of Directors. BURNAWAY is committed to reviewing work that we feel contributes to important discourse in Atlanta. In our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.)
The exhibition, Align, continues at Spruill Gallery through Saturday, March 19, 2011.