Geoff Tuck reviews Ben Rivera, Frank Ryan for Notes on Looking 5.24.12

It seems so simple that I can’t understand why it is confusing and compelling. A sheet of plate glass slices through a wooden chair, when I stand nearby my eye sees this as a mirror, the apparent doubling of the chair is not a reflection, but is fact. And the half chair that I do see in the glass really is doubled by the thickness and the two surfaces of the plate glass.

One of these chairs has the glass balanced on point and this feels dangerous and it intrudes into my space – I can feel its threat in my belly. The second chair has glass flat to the floor and it feels contiguous to the floor, as though the grey surface of the floor rises up into the sculpture. The space of the slice is nice looking, and it makes me aware that rather than being separated, the chair parts are joined – literally by the plate glass between them, and metaphorically by the space between. I could rush to fill this theoretic void with some pop song or a cliched eternal truth, but stopping short feels more fruitful to understanding.

Frank Ryan’s Antonioni film stills are beautiful and not only because they are beautifully painted. By painting two frames together on a single canvas Ryan reveals time, and this makes me think of Rivera’s sculptures again. I think that the seconds that separate one captured moment in film from another join as much as divide the stills. And too, the woman that Ryan has chosen to depict is of a certain age – her eyes and the lines around her mouth speak of knowledge of life. I think that a very young artist might have chosen a different face to render. I think that desire remains as we age, it grows more considered, more aware of the less obvious.

There are two coffins also, or one coffin considered from two angles – as left eye, right eye. (Do you know? One only gets a single glimpse of death, and it comes as we die, and it does not come through our eyes.) I cast my gaze back and forth from painting to painting in this diptych, thinking, “Oh. It works. It’s like closing one eye then the other.” While the stroboscopic effect has interest, what has power is the way Frank Ryan has placed me – my subjective self – before a banal, glazed door, with small metal bells hanging from the pull, and the bells would announce my entry should I push ahead into this room of the deceased. Oriental scatter pads the floor, and the subject – the coffin in question – faces me with flowers on top. This transposition by Frank Ryan of my self to another place and another thought, this education in the ways of time and death – has power.

Loose hanging linen with selvedge (is this current fashion in painting a nod to that other fashion that we wear?), which has been prepared with gesso and a less-white rectangle is painted atop this. In the sepia and black of old engravings Rivera has figured details from Rennaissance sculptures – all flowing gowns and suggestions. The three wall works are painted with a dot pattern that may indicate a printed, photographic source. “Angel with lance,” Untitled, and “The Martyrdom of St. Paul” are resistant, and intriguing. I have difficulty finding my way in, but this may be well – if the way were easier I’d move on. As it is, I leave curious and wanting more.

Ben Rivera, Frank Ryan closes Saturday, May 26 at Gallery KM:

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