Going into Ping Pong Gallery on a full stomach, and leaving with a full head too, I must've looked like Mr. Peanut walking around Potrero Hill last week. Gwenael Rattke's superfine collage cutlets did me in. Partially served as a kaleidopsychescopedelic ode to San Francisco, Rattke's work presents SF as a lightbulb. An engine.
Like I said, that's part of the story. I can't attribute the cascades of web-patterned contact paper, reflective mylar, anonymous comic clips, William Blake book extractions, and old German newspapers to The City By The Bay--can I? This is a "slam dance, tarantula-style," to quote Inspectah Deck, a space where only the Oktogon knows the true intentions of the artist. Oktogon. Aside from being the show's esoteric title, it's also the eight-sided hero of a complex collage of collages that badly needed an axle.
This black-on-black octagon, framed like everything else in black wood, delivers its few details incisively. This is not a stop sign. In fact, to my eyes it first seemed a nondescript polygon--not an overpowering signifier--because of a simple 1/16 rotation (22.5 degrees) from its more ubiquitous form. I actually counted the sides to convince myself. It's more aggressive, more "odd" and unbalanced with points up and down. Really it's a sandwich of concentric octagons, with cut, kinda ragged paper fanning out to the larger "bread" of coarsely rollered black board. The hollow left by the paper shapes' terminus is backed by more of that black board. In short, a nice contrast of blacks, like the collective wardrobe at a Mötörhead concert.
Perched on its own wall--directly across from the lonely Oktogon--is a larger piece, Kiraly, a rock poster-esque arabesque of paisley and lava lamp motion. Those classic archenemies, blue and red, fill in the repeated (echoed) descriptions of a man, prostrate here, standing there--a repeating element in this show. Rattke is curious with a knife and a copy machine, which is better than a fork and a power outlet. His dense layering and methodical...method of cutting and assembling creates interference between the "real" cut layers and the photocopies of previous cuts. Rattke is a reviser. He toils in and out of the picture. He's a back-up-and-looker.
When I back up and look, I see Oktogon and Kiraly conversant; it must be their requited gazes. Or maybe they both, like people sometimes, just need to get away from the pack--in this case, the remaining 14 pieces in the show. All rammed together in the corner opposite of the gallery door, these pieces are either socializing or huddling in panic, away from the other two, who are presumably deadlocked but ready to draw pistols. (Imagine.)
That active corner, with the kinetic energy of Hasbro R&D, ranges from concert-poster-trippy to flow-chart-logical and then onto a crazed confection of faces that would settle nicely by a manifesto and some pipe bombs. Some collages pieces are cut and bound to a decorative shape (a'la Kiraly), while others are just quarried and layered, often in blocky, rectangular forms. Mustaches flow from the philtrums of men like Rattke's copy machine toner. These bad-boy bristles are a highly-sexed feature in Rattke's hands, appearing alternately über-gay and mad-macho. The dichotomy is accentuated by the recurrent motorcycles, aviators, and leather. Man and his sex machine.
Technically, Rattke's nuanced use of grayscale is intense. It's the bridge between his pencil-drawn biker portrait and his assemblages of smattered haze, those dissolute blocks of gray, cut into rectangles to use simply as tone. The closeness, but ultimate inexactitude, in his cutting and placement indicates his reliance on broader object relationships over minutiae. More often than not, relationships hinge on a central point, with a very deliberate Alberti-esque linear perspective. Yes, there's logic here, when you dig; notice that all the pictorial elements are "upright" and have a consistent physical gravity. This makes it all the more natural (but Sisyphean) to read a narrative in all of this. Follow the light. The light is your guide.
- Andy Ritchie
(Images: Courtesy of artist and Ping Pong Gallery, SF)