Suburban Backyard Aesthetics: Jessica Machacek at the Georgia Museum of Art

plot, 2015

plot, 2015

With a rectilinear arrangement in white, accessorized by a looping yellow line, Jessica Machacek transforms materials from the garden section of any Home Depot or Lowe’s supply store into a sculptural installation of clear aesthetic intent. What the work on view in the MFA Candidate Exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, entitled plot (2015), suggests is the equally transformative, aesthetic nature of people’s efforts in their own plots of land: the suburban American yard.


Detail, plot, 2015

Suburban America is invoked not merely in the yellow rubber hose, coming from a water spigot attached to the museum’s wall, but in the perfectly level grass of white, synthetic turf and pavement it lays upon. Absurdly the hose is not functional, nor does the artificial grass require watering. On the wall, a grid of nine white plaster squares backs this tableaux. A spotlight from a bulb on a tripod refocuses the viewer’s attention on what seems to be a product built for decorative garden edging, a pile of white rocks. In fact, the artist made each rock by hand, replicating an easily obtained consumer object through time-consuming and repetitive labor. Consumerism fascinates the artist. Machacek’s labor not only critiques the easy consumerism with which we prune and ornament our little fiefdoms of outdoor space, but indicts the artist as a willing participant in the endless cycle with which we try to uphold artificial standards for natural beauty.

Vivarium Dream

Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

The consumerist interests of the artist are subdued in the ghostly plot, which functions like the photographic negative of a twinned work, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634). Vivarium Dream, a multi-part installation comprised of a commercially available greenhouse, sound, garden items of faux materials, and printed images, formed the basis for plot quite literally. The artist cast the white plaster squares of plot’s back wall from the clear plastic windows provided for the DIY greenhouse. The turf and tile in plot matches the footprint of the greenhouse, which also contains handmade rocks. The artificial ambitions of man’s engagement with “nature,” as manifest in the American backyard, is seen more clearly in Vivarium Dream, where an impossibly long and bright fake fern dangles in front of the reproduction of a waterfall.


Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

Taken together, these works show the artist’s concern with clarifying her and our relationship to something as simple as a smooth green lawn. Particularly in an installation like plot, one sees how much ideas of nature have become unnatural. While such considerations are hardly new—one need only look as far as the picturesque reaction to the formal gardens of Versailles—in Machacek’s work they speak to a contemporary American moment inherited from the 1950s and closely tied to suburbia and the American dream.

Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015


Imaginative Narrative: Allan Innman’s Tales in Paint at the Georgia Museum of Art

Allan Innman’s roughly five-foot by six or seven-foot paintings at the MFA Candidate Exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art enfold the viewer in fantastical realms. Deliberately invoking the nostalgia of childhood through toys, Innman elevates these simple beginnings into intricate narrative told in high-key, fluorescent color.

Sentient Beings - oil on canvas - 63 x 76 inches - 2015

Sentient Beings, oil on canvas, 63 x 76 inches, 2015

Visually complex to match complex narratives, Sentient Beings depicts astral planes within a Sci-fi matrix, in which a Chinese figurine representing the God of Longevity meets the threatening presence of a flaming head of the Flaming Future Ghost. Everything is painted as if made of incandescent neon or located under otherworldly spotlights. Rippling movement across the sky, the Flaming Future Ghost’s cloak, and the un-solid floor of the world suggests flux. A stream of blue sweeps into the glowing space. Reflected in the glassy green-lined matrix beneath, the blue bolt warps the space-time fabric of the astral plane. Within this encounter, strange beings navigate worlds whose rules and order we can only guess at. One imagines either the incipient creation or destruction of worlds. That is, in fact, the imperative of these paintings—to imagine.

Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs - oil on canvas - 62.5 x 83 inches - 2015

Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs, oil on canvas, 62.5 x 83 inches, 2015

Another impossible world beckons in Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs, featuring a seahorse pulling green people housed in stacking ring toys across an underwater desert. Although everything is given to us—rippling green seaweed, pink ties, streams of bubbles, and long receding strips of desert sand, the narrative of the painting only comes alive if we truly enter the scene imaginatively. Where are the green men going? Are they twins? Are they unable to breathe underwater because they are from a different land? Answering such questions detours through complex narrative by way of childhood tropes. Despite the vehicle—a toddler’s stacking ring toy—the painting asks instead for a developed intellect to take the time to play.


Mirage, oil on canvas mounted to panel, 10.5 x 10 inches, 2015

Innman draws on world culture for his idiosyncratic tales in paint. Symbols in Sentient Beings such as the God of Longevity and Future Ghost uses ancient symbols of the afterlife in a futuristic setting that recalls magic in the form of crystals as much as contemporary scientific theory of the structure of space-time. In Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs, the twins are in fact referencing the Ancient Roman twins Castor and Pollux, the desert landscape contemporary sci-fi such as Dune and Stargate. Such knowledge is an adult’s. Yet the artist deliberately returns to the themes of childhood to unlock the creativity and wonder of fresh eyes. In a similar manner, adventures and new worlds unfold before the immersed viewer, suggesting that we are limited in these paintings only by our own imaginations.

More of the artist’s work on his website.

The Black Unconscious: Odilon Redon’s Lithographs of St. Anthony

Redon_Plate 13_...And eyes that without heads were floating like mollusks

Plate 13 “…And eyes that without heads were floating like mollusks”

I think of dreamy, smudged pinks and blues when I think of the work of Odilon Redon, the 19th century French Symbolist artist. However, a recurring concern of the artist was the temptation of St. Anthony by the devil, as told in a popular contemporary book by Gustave Flaubert, which Redon rendered in lithograph three times over the course of his life. Flaubert wrote an imaginative version of the saint’s story featuring mythical beasts, different religious traditions, and a mystical journey. “The Nightmare Transported into Art: Odilon Redon’s St. Anthony,” a recently closed exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, displayed a complete set of Redon’s 1896 series of prints. Redon’s imaginative lithographs often imaged unusual or unimportant narrative moments. For example, although impossible sea creatures are not prominent in the tale, the artist enjoyed the opportunity to give them form, as in Plate 13 (above).

OdilonRedon_Plate 18_AnthonyWhat is the point of all of this

Plate 18 “Anthony: What is the point of all of this? The Devil: There is no point.”

These lithographs embrace their black and white nature to great but mysterious effect, so that, even with captions taken from Flaubert’s book, they require interpretation from the viewer. Despite my initial idea of the artist, Redon had a strong preference for black. The artist wrote that:

Black is the most essential color. …Black should be respected. Nothing prostitutes it. It does not please the eye and does not awaken sensuality. It is the agent of the spirit much more than the splendid color of the palette or of the prism.

In fact, in lithographs, etchings, and charcoal drawings, Redon used only black in his work from 1870 until 1895. This obvious contrast to the concurrent work of the Impressionists, with their preference for sparkling color and rejection of black even in shadows, suggests the commitment of Redon to a hidden, interior world rather than the material one that the Impressionists strove to document.