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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Richard Garrison at Spencertown Academy

My wife, Karen, and I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Saturday and drove along Route 203 through Columbia County (rightly dubbed "the Tuscany of upstate New York") to see Richard Garrison's very handsome solo show at Spencertown Academy http://www.spencertownacademy.org/, on view through May 24.

It's difficult to decide whether Garrison is more a visual artist or a statistician. His works in the show (titled American Color) are colorful, structural, and elegantly handmade, using traditional artistic media (mostly pencil, watercolor, and gouache on paper). Yet they are also data sets, strictly speaking, and apparently quite intentionally so.
This is not a true dilemma, but it is an unavoidable and fascinating central feature to Garrison's work and, one assumes, his mind. His method is rigorous and fairly simple - create a scheme by noting the colors of all the structural elements of the drive-thru facility of a specific fast-food restaurant (in one body of work) or by referring to the colors of the items on certain pages of an advertising circular (in another body) and then arrange the colors in a pre-drawn grid of strips or dots.

Garrison does nothing to interpret his data, apart perhaps from the unexplained way he organizes the order of the colors, leaving the viewer to draw his own inferences from the dry presentation. Still, there is a richness in his choice of source material and the information he does provide (such as locations, in the case of the restaurants, and dates, in the case of the circulars).

So, the relatively subdued and limited color palette that we see in Drive-Thru Color Scheme (Starbucks) reveals aspects of the Starbucks marketing philosophy, and these intimations take on more meaning in contrast to the far more diverse and bright coloration found in Drive-Thru Color Scheme (McDonald's). Or, you can just enjoy the colors and layouts of the drawings, without getting into such intellectualization, and you'll find them quite adequate as abstract art (see Drive-Thru Color Scheme [Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken] above).

The Weekly Ad Color Scheme drawings offer more information and more opportunity to interpret - they also look a bit more like actual statistical graphs or scatter charts than the other series, which is constructed of rectilinear strips and more closely resembles art of the Constructivist era. Still, they're sort of pretty (and I mean that in a nice way).

It's fun to glimpse the weekly ad drawings at a natural viewing distance (from where the tiny pencil notations on the source material are illegible) and try to guess where they're from just based on the colors. For example, Karen immediately caught the red/green holiday theme that dominates Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Joann Fabric and Craft Stores), which was dated Nov. 2-8 and on closer scrutiny showed that the items selected were quite specific to Christmas. I had a similar "a-ha!" experience with a camo-colored drawing that was sourced to a Dick's Sporting Goods flyer published at the height of hunting season.

Again, comparisons among the drawings in the group led to other ideas and insights, as the primaries and pastels of Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Toys "R" Us) play against the soft brights and sober blacks and grays of Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Office Max) and so on. With these, and all the drawings, one is also continually impressed with Garrison's skill and consistency in executing these precise works.

Two other works in the show are collages, made of squares of paper or cardboard cut from product packages found at the Garrison household; another pair of works, derived from a relentless application of the Spirograph toy (detail shown at right), represent a different direction that is more purely visual as well as more purely process-oriented than the rest of the work.

One of the collages, very large and bright, is a joyous constellation of color and shape that greets visitors from across the room and fairly dominates it. It shows a more playful side of Garrison, while remaining within the realm of his other methods, and fairly well settles the question - the statistician really is more of an artist.

1 comment:

Joe Putrock said...

Great review of a great show!!