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Friday, November 18, 2011

Richard Deon: Paradox and Conformity at the ACCR

Installation view of Richard Deon: Paradox and Conformity
Photo by Richard Deon

You probably remember the Richard Dreyfuss character in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, whose obsession with a curious monolithic shape takes over his life. Another Richard D. has a similar obsession, as evidenced by a fascinating solo exhibition at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy titled Richard Deon: Paradox and Conformity.

The show represents an extremely adept artist with a conceptualist’s thought processes, an installation artist’s approach, and an illustrator’s skill, who is not afraid to employ a wide range of media (acrylic on canvas, sculpture, collage, inkjet) to articulate his vision. And a rather peculiar vision it is, drawing heavily from elementary-school primers, historical references, and ideas about painting and corporate culture, just to name a few obvious influences.

Remaining Palette
acrylic on canvas by Richard Deon
Deon’s style is a confounding mix of the personal and the coldly technical. His notes to the exhibition, placed next to key pieces, reveal a quirky and deeply felt connection to the images and their content, while the manner in which the works are made borders on the mechanical. In one note, he refers almost passionately to a “blister yellow” field of color on a canvas that is “text ready.”

Most important, the work is almost fiercely consistent, making for a unified presentation of five years’ worth of material (augmented by a couple of related works that date several years earlier) that tightly fills the Arts Center’s ample main gallery. In contrast to nearly every show I’ve see in this space before, where sparseness has been the rule - and not always to good effect - this show is a bit overcrowded. If the work were not so clean and texture-free, it could be claustrophobic.

Peace Deal
painted wood, wheels by Richard Deon
The primary element in Paradox and Conformity is a flat shape that appears in nearly every piece, whether painted, cut out, formed in plastic, or blind-embossed. Apparently taken from the silhouette of a tabletop microscope with a cover on it, this iconic shape functions as an archetype, taking on different scales and meanings in different contexts. Whether as a sail, an award, or a talisman, the shape gains power from placement and repetition, just as symbols always have done throughout history and in human culture today.

Deon uses other archetypes in this body of work, among them a pedantic scholar, a stoic Everyman, and a small airplane, all of which are rendered in a flat-black shorthand. One can't help but ask the question over and over while exploring the show: What does it all mean? Clearly, it is the artist's intention to stimulate this quizzical state, but his game is not without a payoff - one is likely to leave the show with a pretty good idea, conscious or unconscious, of what we think it means, just as we do when we contemplate our everyday lives.

And that, I think, is the strength of this work. Though it is artificial almost in the extreme (and it's no accident that the first three letters of that word spell "art"), it is also deeply connected to who we are, where we come from and - one would suspect - where we are going.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Early Morning by Fern Apfel
Also on view, in the Arts Center's Foyer Gallery, is a sweet, strong exhibition by Fern Apfel titled Studio Wall. Apfel is a longtime favorite of mine, and this collection shows why - modestly sized but with an ambitious mix of media, Apfel's art is like a cultural note-taking process with beauty as a requirement. Be sure not to miss it when you go to see the Deon show. Additionally, upstairs in the Faculty Student Gallery there is a solo exhibition by landscape painter Deborah Bayly.

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