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Visual Art

First Blush

Lustrous works of three artists create a light and whimsical vibe for summer

By Maura Callahan

2:46 PM EDT, June 26, 2014

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Mark Rothko used paint to create a kind of almost living hum that vibrated off of the canvas. While his hum was overwhelmingly dark and ominous, the works on display in “Blush,” at Gallery CA through July 9, have a similar energy but emit a lighter, whimsical vibe, fitting of the show’s title. You’re not going to walk into the gallery and start questioning the reality of time and space. You might, however, feel a sudden desire for some cool sunglasses and a cold beverage after viewing the lustrous works by Xinyi Cheng, Jeffrey Dell, and Curtis Miller.

Nine paintings and screenprints—three by each artist—command the viewer’s attention evenly throughout the gallery. The three artists deal with significantly different content: Cheng creates quirky figurative paintings, Dell refined, supernatural screenprints, and Miller frenzied action paintings. The cohesion lies in the energy radiating from each surface. This “blush” is simply the bait that brings you into the experience each piece offers.

Cheng’s oil paintings emit the softest glow, with analogous color palettes and gentle forms. Her characters are captured in mundane moments—drinking from a water fountain, getting a haircut, nodding off in the back of a car during a long drive. The images are constructed from large shapes that are flat in tone and texture. But, as in life, small nuances make these moments interesting. In this case, the charm lies in comical bodily tidbits. A few moles cluster on a man’s shoulder in ‘Thomas’ as he leans over the fountain, pulling back his long hair. Wispy, delicate hairs swirl around the figure’s chest like rings on a tree. The static arch of water glows a neon green. In ‘The Haircut,’ hot pink and purple nipples peek out from behind the nudes’ backs. Hair gathers between the cutter’s fingers, whose own green hair stands stark against the pink space. The sexual nature of a naked man cutting the hair of another nude figure (the sex of the sitter is ambiguous) is understated. Their nudity expresses the warmth and humanness of the moment, rather than any potential eroticism. Even in an absurd moment like this, Cheng manages to capture very real sensations in each image. ‘On the Way to the Beach’ encompasses the feeling of being trapped inside the gray interior of a car making its way to Ocean City, the monotonous landscape streaming past. Cheng’s work is tenderly human, complementing Dell’s paranormal images in particular.

The forms in Dell's screenprints resemble crisp paper sculptures, flattened to a clean, two-dimensional space. The forms, marked by bold stripes or dots, exude a celestial glow. They appear to levitate from the clean white surface, while at the same time appearing heavy, like they could have been constructed from either paper or steel. The presentation is so pristine that the prints could be Apple-esque advertisements for some new, unfamiliar product. The mystery of the forms is equally alluring to their glow. In ‘Footsteps in the Dark,’ an askew accordion-folded object fractures light as parallel stripes radiate a sort of metallic opal shine. ‘Mint Condition’ diffuses a peachy glow from a twisted lawn-chair sort of shape, emphasized by a single bold orange stripe. ‘Appetite’ looks like a bit of polka-dotted party streamer, wrapped tightly around itself. It’s pointless, really, to attempt to associate these forms to real-world objects, although the titles make you want to find some kind of visual connection. It’s a kind of tease, purposed to keep you looking. These images are only familiar in their object-ness and in their generic, decorative markings. Otherwise, they are completely alien.

Miller’s work offers a human presence that distinguishes itself from Dell’s supernaturalism and Cheng’s scenes. The oil paintings, composed of layered patterns and textures, demonstrate the process, and therefore the presence of the artist himself. Like Cheng’s visual nuances, these layers allow the eye to linger and slowly dissect the image, like memories that become clearer with the synthesis of details. 'Untitled no. 7' looks like an Agnes Martin grid painting, if Martin had finally become frustrated with creating those perfect, delicate lines over and over again and just clawed into the panel and flung some luminescent peach and green paint over the gray composition. In ‘Waterstroke,’ the abstract marks and shapes have the weight of objects in space. It looks like a summer scene with the sprinkler on in the backyard, along with, strangely, an orange traffic cone. Variations in color in the grasslike pattern grounding the image create a cast-shadow effect. A green grainlike pattern overlaps washed-out blue waves, as if the grass and the sky were compressed together. A single blue brushstroke freezes over the grass pattern in the same way David Hockney’s ‘A Biggee Splash’ is rendered motionless over a swimming pool. ‘Hollow Panel’ is less readable as real space, although Curtis employs his shadowlike shape repetition. If anything, the overlapping textures and shapes could resemble a complex stage plan. The orange cone shape in ‘Waterstroke’ reappears here, but only in a partial contour. Thick purple lines intersect to form a purple grid over part of the panel, linking the piece to ‘Untitled no. 7.’ The intensity of the painting’s energy is almost aggravating, but in the company of Cheng’s and Curtis’ more controlled compositions, it’s a pleasant moment of unhindered movement.