Thursday, March 3, 2022

Short Take: refract at Albany Center Gallery

Works by, from left, Royal Brown, Naomi Lewis, and Benjamin Jose
are part of refract at Albany Center Gallery.
photos provided

The five artists in Albany Center Gallery's current show, refract, don't appear at first glance to belong together. Their media vary from video to watercolor to cast iron; their imagery from space-age to delicacy on the page. But a theme does emerge from the selection, which was organized by the gallery's associate curator, Jennie Tang. It has to do with the approach these artists take to their subjects.

Owen Barensfeld's Is It big Enough?
combines images to make a statement
This concept is best explained by the gallery's written material, which states that the five artists employ "different methods of repetitions, patterns, juxtapositions and distortions" to broaden our understanding and experience of everyday visuals. Here, those visuals have become abstracted and transformed, built of mere suggestions, or created directly out of the simplicity of a grid.

The show, like many at this venue, is spare, featuring just 29 works in all. Nine of those works are by Naomi  Lewis, whose whisper-soft graphite drawings pull you in close, and whose patterned images of bees fill their surfaces expansively, often emphasizing negative space to great effect. Equally wed to overall pattern, Trevor Wilson painstakingly builds large images out of tiny squares in grids of graphite or colored pencil, the results feeling almost equal parts human and machine.

Owen Barensfeld and Royal Brown come from opposite positions to meet in a middle zone of spaceships and technology. While Brown creates colorful models of imaginary craft out of the most mundane of found objects (empty spray cans and such), Barensfeld transforms mass-media images of bomb blasts and moonshots into objects of contemplation. Both have something to say: In Brown's case, it's a literal message of love amid fantasy; Barensfeld's seems to be more about the mesmerizing terror of industrial power.

From left, works by Trevor Wilson, Owen Barensfeld,
Benjamin Jose, and Royal Brown are part of refract
Benjamin Jose seems to be the odd man out in this group. His constructions of mismatched materials struck me as being more in the realm of formalism and surrealism than anything else here, and his messages less clearly stated than the others'. That said, his highly refined use of such disparate substances as wood, steel, and leather holds its own kind of fascination.

refract will remain on view through Friday, March 4, so it's now or never if you want to catch a look. I'm glad I did.

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