Thomas Macker’s Holdout reviewed in Jackson Hole News & Guide 4.19.17

Show explores modern warfare’s complexity

Turns out, human beings stink at camouflage.

Humans dominate other species in many ways, but when it comes to camouflage and blending with the landscape, many animals, sea creatures and even insects best us, artist Thomas Macker said. They can shift their shape, change their skin pigment and contort their bodies to a 10th of their normal size, transforming until they are nearly invisible.

“They have a way of physically adapting to the landscape,” Macker said. “But when we do it, when we embed in the landscape and put on Army fatigues and camouflage, it’s quite crude and naive in some ways. We make ourselves so present, everywhere. That kind of graceless act of being so present is something I try to grapple with being human, and there’s a lot to learn from animals.”

It’s that “graceless act” that inspired Macker’s latest body of work, which is on display in the Center Theater Gallery at the Center for the Arts.

“Holdout” is an exhibit of sculptures and paintings created with a variety of media techniques and materials that explores camouflage as well as war propaganda and modern warfare.

The research-based exhibit began with Macker’s exploration of camouflage in the natural world and in war. That led him to investigating war propaganda, as well as a “holdout,” a person continuing to engage in warfare after the war is over, he said.

The resulting exhibition features paintings based on actual propaganda leaflets from various conflicts, countries and time periods, created with materials including chameleon color-shifting paint, copper paint, heat enamel paint and LED lights.

The entire show uses new media materials and techniques like autosterogram, which create a three-dimensional look to a two-dimensional piece, thermal imaging and anodization of titanium, which changes the oxide level of metal and its color. He also used insulating and conductive paints in the works.

While Macker had used some of the techniques in previous works, the exhibit offered a rare chance to work with unusual materials in new ways. The show, which was recently on exhibit at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, was sponsored by individuals and companies, allowing him to focus on exploring the idea, versus worrying about selling a painting.

The result is a “cosmology of ideas,” he said.

The unusual materials Macker uses in the show will catch viewers’ eyes first, but that’s not only what it’s about, said Carrie Richer, the creative initiatives coordinator at the Center for the Arts. It’s about the impacts of war.

“I think we can all relate to that, and it’s a pretty heavy and important subject,” she said.

The exhibit features several large sculptures, including one of a bonsai tree that will sit in the courtyard at the Center for the Arts. The stainless steel sculpture is Richer’s favorite piece in the exhibit.

Macker’s show deals with psychological warfare and dark subject matter. The tree is a beautiful element that balances the dark aspects of the show with something light, she said. The sculpture is based on an actual bonsai tree passed down through generations for 400 years and eventually given as a gift to the United States from Japan, she said. For Richer the tree is a symbol of hope and peace, and the mirror-polished stainless steel provides a reminder to reflect on political situations around the world.

“It might be a little weird at first, but I think it will grow on people and become very meaningful,” she said.

“I think this conceptual art movement that is happening is growing in Jackson,” she said. “I was really happy to embrace that because I think this is a good place for people to come and try to see something a little different.”

The show opens at 5:30 p.m. Friday with a reception.

Macker will give a talk from noon to 1 p.m. April 27.

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