Douglas Kolk’s fragmented collages lend image to the horror vacui found in the intersection of urban fashion, media, and popular culture. The enervated subjects in these works and in his more streamlined drawings are over stimulated and aloof. Their social anesthetization appears rooted in an overwhelming search for self and the alleviation of boredom. This is a world in which identities are prescribed and imagined, chosen from a material marketplace of culture and subculture. Kolk’s noncommittal subjects are unfazed by the scope and cacophony of this cultural supermarket -- Identity is something they can simply try on, like the latest style of jeans.
In a shared exhibition at Galerie Akinci, Kolk is showing two of these lush collages and a series of drawings that convey the contrasting terror and banality of such an existence.
The large collages combine spray paint, newsprint, drawing, and text replicating the intensity of experience in a media-driven world. In I’m Shadow, unmoored skulls, body parts, women, posters, and text inhabit a claustrophobic and volatile landscape. The artist’s interest in the club scene and youth culture is visible in his collages’ New Rave colors and graffiti aesthetics. Indeed the works would find themselves as much at home on a billboard of club flyers as they do on a gallery wall.
Despite the work’s hipster appeal, there is sincerity in Kolk’s explorations. Neither judgmental nor cynical, he never tells you what to think. Like the collages, Kolk’s drawings are purposefully cryptic, lacking obvious referents. Androgynous figures take center stage. Color, mostly denim blue, is reserved only for fashion and cosmetics. This style is fully anchored in contemporary practice. With their incohesive text and occasionally naïve execution Kolk’s drawings resemble the work of Raymond Pettibon, Karen Kilimnik, and Elizabeth Peyton.
These works consider not self-discovery, but narcissistic self-invention; identities are created, not uncovered. Kolk teases out the dialectical relationship between discontent and the glossy splendor of fashion, sexuality, youth, and pop culture. Amidst the boredom and adolescent longing of Kolk’s wistful characters we taste the empty calories of glamour that keep them coming back for more.
Galerie Akinci is also exhibiting new paintings and a drawing by Charlotte Schleiffert. Like Douglas Kolk’s collages, Schleiffert’s paintings are brightly colored, fashionable works evocative of youth and the urban imagination. Her figures, however, exhibit less vulnerability and more passion than Kolk’s. They are alluring and powerful, overwhelming perhaps, but never destructive.
Schleiffert’s large format paintings depict women engaged in uncertain sexual encounters. Unlike those in her previous work, these women lack identifying characteristics. With economical employment of shape, line, and color the artist creates iconographic representations of power and unbridled sexuality. Bodies are depicted as flat planes of shadow and highlight, with swaths of sparkly adhesive foil further delineating their shapes.
The nature of these sexual acts is unclear. Are the women porn stars, prostitutes, or girlfriends? Are the events one night stands, business transactions, or monogamous lovemaking? Whatever the relationship between the women and their sexual partners, the ladies dominate the compositions, and apparently the action. The lower halves of their bodies disappear into a confusing cluster of limbs. Some of these appendages are their own, but others belong to unseen partners. While the performance of intercourse appears the same we are left wondering about the psychological relationships we cannot see.
I keep looking at an image of Black Dahlia, a disturbing painting in which the woman’s body dissolves into a puddle of mysterious anatomical forms. In the gallery a curious black “object of plaster” sits before the painting. Her body is composed of flat black shapes and her face resembles a horrible mask. I can’t help but picture her as one of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon underneath a blacklight. I sent an image of this painting to a number of wise friends asking what they saw. Each responded to my Rorschach test differently - I suspect those who sheepishly confessed to having a “dirty mind” hit closest to the mark.
In the one work on paper, Black Beauty, we get visual clues about the woman’s face. She, too, is nameless and nude (with obligatory confusing limbs), but she is not like the women in the intercourse paintings. She has form rather than shape and we understand that this is a portrait of a strong person, not a question about an ambiguous action.
Schleiffert has cultivated an unpolished aesthetic. There is an almost careless treatment of material. Gesso remains uncovered; staples are visible on the sides of the stretchers; pencil marks are not erased. This unfinished technique belies a conceptual sophistication. Why tidy up? -- The relationships and meanings in her works are similarly messy.
The beauty of these paintings for me lies in their unresolved messages. The simple shapes and collapsed perspectives confuse the relationships between positive and negative space. Though we ultimately focus on these commanding women, we are never certain whether they are subject or object. Their images are at once abrasive and glamorous, and the tension Schleiffert creates effectively captures the complex spaces between desire and power, lust and control, beauty and disgust.
(Images: Douglas Kolk, Untitled, 1998, Mixed media on paper, 113.5x82.5 cm; Charlotte Schleiffert, Black Beauty, 2006, Mixed media on paper, 230x147 cm. Images courtesy of the artists and Galerie Akinci, NL)
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