When I lived in Chicago, I was introduced to new artwork constantly. Whether it was monumental public art, a mind-bending exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, or new work at one of Chicago’s blue-chip galleries, the city provided an amazingly accessible visual art education. It’s not that I don’t expect the same from Atlanta, but so often its art scene can seem isolated. This isolation is not just of local artists struggling for a larger audience, but also a lack of communication with what’s happening outside the region. As such, it is extremely refreshing to see in Atlanta new work by a young artist—and an African artist I’d never heard of, to boot.
Zander Blom: Place and Space at the Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta (SCAD) features 13 works made in the past three years by this young South African artist. It is the artist’s first solo show in North America, and was initially displayed at SCAD’s Savannah campus. In the works featured in Place and Space, Blom explores ideas of creative space through representations of his own studio. The resulting exhibit gives insight into Blom’s artistic ambitions.
Initially the exhibition seems to lack order. The largest works greet the viewer; the smaller ones are clumped at the far end of the room. Only after circling the oblong gallery a few times does a narrative emerge. Blom goes from photographing the interior space of his studio to creating abstracted paintings that idealize space. In the earliest works, line is used to suggest dimensional space. In his photograph The Black Hole Universe. Chapter 1. Scene 004, São Paolo, 2009, jagged black lines are painted to overlay the edges of a ceiling corner. When translated into black and white, the effect is visually disconcerting. The black lines could be dangling ropes; the artist’s mark assumes form and distinguishes itself from the wall.
The Black Hole Universe is an extension of a previous series in which Blom alternately painted or inserted sculptural shapes into ceiling corners and then photographed his work. The resulting image is a tromp l’oeil; the eye cannot immediately discern the sculptures from the paintings. The effect is playful and may recall the bus stop poster work of KAWS for those who were present for his recent speech at the High Museum. In the case of KAWS, it’s hard to know where the advertising ends and street art begins, if you recognize the difference at all. KAWS reimagines promotional images; Blom applies a similar logic to space.
Returning to the SCAD Atlanta show, we can see Blom begin to reject real space in favor of two-dimensional abstract renderings. In Untitled, 2011, graphite lines cutting a Y greet the viewer as if one is gazing into corner. Black painted lines swirl around a central point on the canvas, suggesting movement and accentuating negative space. In another piece the Y is gone, but the black swirl remains. The khaki-colored linen of the canvas gives the work a necessary separation from the white gallery wall and emphasizes the fact that we are looking at a representation of space. The playfulness of Blom’s photographs is gone, replaced by thoughtful experimentation.
In the most triumphant works, further abstraction occurs, color is incorporated to energizing effect, and lines begin to fall away. In Untitled, 2011, traditional perspectival lines have been abandoned. The sense of space is created by a riotous field of painted squiggles and dashes that soar upward. In Black Hole Universe Blom’s lines were fuzzy and thick; here they are calligraphic, rhythmic, and full of movement like that of an Asian tiger painting. A trio of black orbs reminiscent of the work of Adolph Gottlieb hovers at the top of the canvas. The work claims lineage with Abstract Expressionism, but Blom, in choosing to leave some areas untouched by paint, emphasizes the writhing movement of his painted lines.
Place and Space makes a trip to SCAD worthwhile, as does the Dario Escobar show on the lobby level. Blom’s work is tucked away on the fourth floor, next to the library stacks in the ignonymous Trois Gallery. Given the unexpected excellence of the reopened SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah (click here for BURNAWAY’s article from last year), I’d like to see the school invest in a better Atlanta exhibition space. SCAD’s curators are skillfully playing off the school’s resources and international ambitions and are showing some truly excellent work. Let’s put it somewhere worthy.
The exhibition Zander Blom: Place and Space continues at Trois Gallery on the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design through April 6, 2012.