James Scarborough reviews Exegesis Eisegesis Encaustic on The Huffington Post 6.21.16

None of Your Beeswax? Hardly.: “Exegesis Eisegesis Encaustic,” Katie Herzog with Andrew Choate at Klowden Mann Gallery

James Scarborough

For this exhibition, Katie Herzog, in conjunction with writer Andrew Choate, has created a series of encaustic diptychs that plays tug of war with words that refer to things and words that in themselves are things. They chose generic Angeleno signage, unbranded, without obvious references. For each sign, Choate fashioned a sort of linguistic, Lewis Carrol-like doppelganger, which Herzog then fabricated in encaustic.

If these were done with a medium that was fluid and fast drying, like acrylic or watercolor, they would constitute some manner of Surrealist wordplay, the results of which were called Exquisite Corpses. I say CARIBBEAN, you respond, EXEGISIS. Then I say HORROR, you say DONUTS. Finally, I say ETHICAL DRUGS, you say MISTAKEN HUGS. Executed spontaneously, in the fire of a synapse, they would be lyrical and, occasionally, rapturous, if not nonsensical and, ultimately inconsequential.

But Herzog executes her images in encaustic, which is a time- and labor-intensive process. She presents these pairings of words for our perusal and reflection as if they were prehistoric bugs embedded in amber. As befits their medium, there’s a tactile quality to each diptych. Textured with time, stripped of context, they look worn if not archaeological. Hung aloft there on the wall, they shimmer, as if slowly coming into focus, forming a Before and After transformation, which, in fact, they just have, though it’s not as much linguistic as it is formal.

If you search for connections between the words themselves, you’re missing the show’s point. Instead of charting new, as the Surrealists would say, marvelous pathways created by a progressive (read: poetic) look at language, the works embody their visual connections, with the words being nothing more than visual elements. The links between the words are those described in art’s formal vocabulary of principles and elements. God knows how you’d connect HORROR and DONUTS, unless there was an E.coli breakout at a bakery. But if you compare their horizontal orientation, their all-caps spelling, their spacing between and negative spacing within the words, their composition of various curves, angles, and straight lines, you find that each of the pairings in the exhibition can be  understood as visual links in a web where language is an object, a thing, not an element of speech, a signifier. In this respect, the words, linked by materiality and composition, refer to a specific this-ness and not some other that-ness. The fact that they’re done encaustically suggests that, like the once-fluid wax, the words are as much about presence as they aren’t about otherness.

Global culture can be characterized by its ubiquitous visuality, which is another way of saying that the distinction between high- and low-art has been overwhelmed by the quantity of images digitally transmitted 24/7, available on any number of platforms. This is compounded when you throw the form if not the content of advertising’s typography and graphic design into the mix. This exhibition gets us to consider that the forms of text are every bit as artistic, meaningful, and appealing as what that text does or doesn’t convey.

Gallery hours are 11 am – 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. The exhibition runs until July 16. The Gallery is located at 6023 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, 90232. For more information, call (310) 280-0226 or visit https://klowdenmann.com/.

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