"Love Tap" at Current Space

If you spend enough time in any one place, it's inevitable that you'll start to talk and think and make like those around you, especially as an art student. It's in those emergent years of your career that you go through an adolescence of figuring out what you like, what you want, and how to make it yours. "Love Tap," at Current Space through this weekend, features paintings and drawings by MICA seniors Louis Fratino, Win Shanokprasith, and Michael Uckotter. I was already fairly familiar with these guys and their work because we all had studios in the same building last year at MICA, and I saw their pieces often. As I walked around the gallery, I had fun picking up common threads in their work: high-key colors, playful use of materials, and an endearing awkwardness. This series of tangential relationships is not unlike how the studio environment works. You have crits together, you see each other's work constantly, and you share artists that you've been looking at. These things all become influences to your work, and everyone will interpret the same influences a little differently.

Despite what these three artists have in common with one another, each of their work feels distinct. Where Uckotter focuses on process and materials as driving forces, Fratino seems motivated by his experiences and stories. Where Shanokprasith's paintings make you want to slow down and nitpick his nuances, Uckotter's imagery hits you up front.

Fratino paints as an outside observer of his own memories. Most of his paintings in this show depict intimate moments between two people, whose tension is heightened by the bright color palette and the nonsensical perspective of the space around them. "Disaster after Jesse Wong's Kitchen" shows a girl and a guy in a car. The girl is driving, and crying, and the guy's face is pressed up to the window, looking out at the bare trees. Small details fill the space around the figures—a Christmas tree air freshener, a cup holder with two half-full glasses of water, a pack of Trident gum, and crumpled up wrappers—and these details momentarily distract me from the rest of the narrative with the figures. The whole space is purposefully uncomfortable. The viewer is placed closest to the girl. Her painted pink skin tone is scraped over and cooled down with blue, and the guy’s hands are pressed together on his lap. Even the outside scenery is silent and still.

Each of Fratino's paintings feels quick but meditative. Where the objects and patterns are painted fast, as if he just needed to get them down and record them, the details that bring you around the composition make you want to stay and search so that you're sure you're not missing any part of the story. One painting that diverges from that is called "Flannel," a medium-sized rectangular close-up of a yellow, blue, and red flannel pattern. Sometimes a memory is just a flash—the print of a shirt, the swirls of your lover's hair—but sometimes it's a longer meditation on several of those things, and all the strangeness and sadness around them.

Uckotter's paintings are all about that impulsive drive to make something. He pushes further from the realm of recognition by combining art historical references and cartoony imagery. In "Soot," he begins with a graphite study of the Pietà, the classic depiction in Christian art of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, and then tags it in black and neon green with a loopy, cloudlike shape and the words "too soon?" It's an ironic, irreverent response to the endless list of influences artists are supposed to take in and make new.

In "Gum Tree," a green tree resembling an upside-down T, with noodle-like limbs sprouting out of it, nestles itself among patchy autumnal shades of purple, yellow, and brown. Laid overtop of this in light blue crayon is a network of connect the dots. At first glance it seems like a compositional map, the way you sometimes see the golden ratio rectangles superimposed over something in nature, or a famous painting like the Mona Lisa. But it's so hastily drawn; the numbered dots are connected with quick, wobbly lines, and the points don’t correlate to the composition of the piece. So the lines seem impulsive and disconnected from the whole thing, and you're left to decode Uckotter's network of references and in-the-moment decisions. It's like a cognitive dissonance in his logic. What you expect to line up in a certain way sometimes takes a left turn.

Much of Uckotter's work looks like it was created out of pure need or desperation. He uses collage, half-dried out markers, and quick marks on torn and crumpled paper. In the sharp light of Current Space's gallery, it's hard not to notice the uneven edges of the buckling paper/Mylar. He's really productive, and his energy is exciting, but the small scale of his works in this show doesn’t seem to match that yet.

Shanokprasith's paintings are a good match with Uckotter's in that they both have a funny logic. In these paintings, fragments of heads, legs, hands seem to materialize out of nowhere among boxes, grids, gradients, and abstract shapes, recalling the internet and pop-up ads, or a mindless social media scroll. But it's not as random as that. Recurrent imagery involving humans and nature among more synthetic shapes creates a system, and seems to point to how we are endlessly inundated with information.

Out of necessity I find myself dwelling on certain moments—subtle shifts in color in the in-between spaces of the paintings or a thick, dry-brushed "frame" of white paint. "Pineapple Soldier" is packed with these color shifts and an equal amount of confusion. It looks like a collage of torn paper and leaves and a creature whose eyes and colors really make you think of Daffy Duck. The shapes weave in and out of recognition, and cause you to question your perception. And though he places color shapes in a way that makes me think of collage, it is a painting, and it brings to mind Jean Arp's shape paintings and Synthetic Cubist still life.

"Bathers in the…Whoops!" has several art references that are carefully used and difficult to pinpoint, and it does something similar with that weaving focus. He uses color to divide up the composition in a Cubist way, letting the color interrupt the way you look at the piece. Two figures are canopied by dainty, linear hands, arms, and legs. White leafy shapes frame the painting and its sides, while the pastel patches of color compose the background. The middle third of the painting is interrupted by a purplish strip of color, shifting all the colors in this section. In the right third of the painting, a sort of Matissean dancer mostly blends into the background, but strips of white draw her forward. What initially appear to be abstract, colorful shapes turn into something namable.

Each of these artists throws a curveball at some point in their respective processes. At first glance you can see how their visual similarities brought together a cohesive show, but as you spend more time with each one, you pick up on their divergent ideas and processes. It's the same in the studio environment—in spite of sharing a common space, ideas, materials, and influences, their subtle differences make the work feel new.

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