I have been a fan of Leslie Shows since hearing her speak about her work at the now-defunct Painting’s Edge program at Idyllwild Arts in the San Jacinto Mountains. At that time, Shows was still making expansive paintings of somewhat abstracted landscapes; cast in the color palette of Sigmar Polke’s gentler works, the size of these paintings belied the intricately detailed portions of the piece. While the sweeping totality of Shows’ works like The Arrangement of Salt and Minerals by Property, 2005, depict somewhat drunk landscapes, a zoomed-in view shows us more: intricate grids, bits of collage, and stratified pulls of color that represent layers of earth.
It was always the absorptive details of Shows’ works that drew me in, so when I visited her most recent solo show at Haines Gallery in San Francisco, I was a bit surprised to see the shift in approach. The works in Split Array are the same, but oh, so very different; in the place of the mixed-media collage paintings that I had expected to see, I found a series of works that look like microcosms of her earlier work enlarged. The layers of color remain, with some of the surrealistic sense of space intact, but these works look more influenced by lapidary than painting. Here, gleaming expanses of metal and glass give rigid three-dimensionality to the subject matter that has always obsessed Shows: mining, minerals, and the ore of the earth.
Complementing these large works—which still function as “paintings” in their display and material make-up—is a collection of cast objects strewn around the gallery floor. Made of sulfur and mimicking ordinary objects (toys and trinkets, bits of our technological glut), these green-yellow objects add a dynamic element into the exhibition. Though I’m not sure of the reason behind rendering the particular objects the artist chose, I do know that these sulfur sculptures are something I’d be interested in seeing more of. The powdery matte of the sulfur recalls the sensuous Lick and Lather, 1993, by Janine Antoni, but the shape of the objects themselves reveal less about the materials—or the meaning behind it—than Antoni’s sculptures do.
In Split Array, we see Shows using new materials, and experimenting with different forms. While that’s never a bad thing, I suppose the growing pains inherent in change—for both the artist and the viewers who follow her—are to be expected.
—Liz Glass, a writer living in San Francisco.
Top Image: Leslie Shows, Detail from Face K, 2011, Mylar, acrylic, plexiglass, sand, crusted glass and engraving on aluminum , 82 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.