Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Edward Mapplethorpe's Variations

Mapplethorpe, installation view

The Foley Gallery on West 28th Street has taken a big commitment to cameraless photography with their current, very elegant show of The Variations, a group of related chemigrams by Edward Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe, Variation 10, 2011

Mapplethorpe, Variation 3, 2011

The colors dazzle from the moment you walk in - yellows, oranges, red-browns enmeshed in swirls of black and white structural elements - and you fall into a kind of trance until you leave.  These are large works too, up to 42 x 64", and tactile: each is unique, and traces of developer are visible on the paper surface.

They seem to be made using the freehand chemigramic method we've alluded to occasionally on this blog; most recently, for example, see the work of young Kathleen Adams.  This means you paint, daub, drip or smear on your fixer and developer as inspiration dictates, going this way and that, covering your surface, each layer modifying the previous somewhat, and then you proceed very quickly until a final fix and wash locks it up.  Chance clearly plays a role, and the artist in the end makes creative decisions as to what works and what doesn't.  Although Mapplethorpe wouldn't comment, it appears to my eye that he also used some hydroxide and thiocyanate to inflect the colors (Adams does too), available from Arista or Clayton.  For paper, it's my impression he's using the large rolls of warmtone from Ilford or Kentmere.

Mapplethorpe, Variation 7, 2011

Previously Mapplethorpe had been known for rather haunting portraits of one-year-old children, their eyes precociously heavy with wisdom, as well as for abstract experiments in various darkroom techniques which earned him a certain recognition - but none of it presaged his current work.  The good news is that the current work is quite accomplished, much of it beautiful.  For someone who traffics in gestural imagery, Mapplethorpe is able to convey the verve and thrill of the approach while maintaining focus and control, thanks to a fastidious skill in handling large paper sizes, large trays, and no doubt gallons of chemicals, not an easy thing - just ask Pollock.

opening reception, May 12

The show runs till June 18.  We think you should bookmark this artist.

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