Casual discussions with painters can often veer into strangely specific considerations regarding color. An easel-owning, brush-wielding acquaintance of mine once spent ten minutes relating his anxieties about Tyrian purple. He had been forced, of his own volition, to banish it from the studio because its use had ultimately become a ‘cheap high’; for him, the royal hue had become a crutch, an easy solution to his chromatic inquisitions. Another local painter brazenly announced to me the discovery of a new gray, to which I snickered doubtfully though I was envious of their enthusiasm.
My skepticism was mildly put to rest viewing Neil Wedman’s recent offerings at Equinox Gallery, composed using an armada of grays, many of them previously never seen before by the human eye. These grays are hilariously employed to depict, of all things, desert rainbows, instances of exploding fireworks factories, and flying saucer sightings.
Wedman’s palette of graphite, asphalt, London fog, incinerated concrete, enamelless teeth, ashen pearl, and even a remotely purple-ish zombie-skin gray are flatly applied to canvas and paper. The tone does not imply a photographic suggestion as much as one might think, one gets the impression that Wedman has, at a certain point, left an archive of blurry, Area 51-era flying saucer photos in a drawer and sought to create pseudo-monochromatic documents of fictional monodramas. The viewer squints at these slight spectacles rendered staid. A trio of watercolors relates as a vignette, the subject of which is the ignition of a fireworks factory (also the subject of a terrifying and enjoyable viral video). Yet here the resultant cacophony of chroma is rendered in negative white streaks made with expressly applied frisket.
Among these three watercolors, the middle piece was most enthralling, its execution nearly perfect. As a rare rash of covetousness washed over, I considered the overtly perceptible tastefulness of the work, and about the psychological effect of gray; that it connotes neutrality is obvious but how that interferes or coincides with aesthetics is complex. Does the essence of tastefulness rest somewhere between black and white? Is neutrality attractive? The definitive answer to both questions is: maybe?
The show also provokes one to consider the essence of the still image as documentation; the animated now suspended behind gray glaze, deprived of its dynamism, is a ghost. Wedman’s’ white light and heavy cement saucers are solids among surfaces – the insurmountable neutrality takes the subjects, colorful fleeting micro-psychedelic moments, and loans them invisibility while curiously imbuing the paintings with the heft and physicality of objects.
I like the way the works’ intentions and appearances trample each other, the subject is muted by the execution, the rampant tastefulness thwarted by a wry and dry silliness. It is difficult not to interpret the artist's grays as being the opposite of rose-tinted glasses, and rather a charcoal filter with which Wedman diminishes spectacular elements and replaces them with cold clarity.
Neil Wedman, Fireworks Factory Explosion #2, 2011, Oil on Canvas, 41 x 55 in. Courtesy the artist and Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.