“Expansions and Stratifications” at Good Citizen Gallery this month is one of those shows where you wish that we humans had a larger range of vision. The satisfying pairing of Karl Jensen and Ken Wood’s art makes you want to step back and take in all the work at once, as a panoramic. This sense of wholeness makes sense with the artists’ similar backgrounds in architecture, whose discipline and shapes clearly inform their work. While Wood exhibits fourteen prints, and Jensen shows four paper works, they both thrive off of creating limitations and boundaries for themselves as impetus for new ways of thinking about the basics.
Wood exhibits several variations on one series, aptly titled, “Strata,” which can refer to geology and the various degrees of layers of decomposition in a bed or rock, or to allegory, pointing to layers and levels of meaning. His prints are all used with the collagraph printmaking technique where the original plate is treated as a surface to collage upon with various materials, creating different textures and shapes. It is then coated with a varnish or other medium and printed as a relief. While there are layers in the actual process of creating the work, more like the geological definition, there is also a visual layering technique drawing upon art historical referencing. In Strata #9 (2011), for example, there is a simple, minimalist abstract composition on a background of white with intersecting red lines, reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s No.4 (1938-42). The middle section has been layered over with an opaque block of color, causing some of the lines to appear orange. But, Wood goes beyond geometry. Way beyond, especially when he adds a huge, gray, paintbrush-like stroke across the middle of the print from the bottom left corner across to the top right corner. Just like that, Wood brings viewers from the calming reverie of the geometrical abstraction of modernism in to the realm of Pop Art and Roy Lichtenstein’s Brush Stroke (1965), meant to playfully mock the gestures and seriousness of Abstract Expressionists. Pairing the exactness of geometry with the defiance of Pop Art into one, highly controlled print is certainly not an aim at some sort of world-tour of modernism, but rather sets the stage for a negotiation not only of art styles but of lifestyles, of stability and freedom, of safety and irreverence.
Jensen exhibits four, white large, nearly floor-to-ceiling hanging hand-cut paper works. Expansion No. 5, Expansion No. 1, and Expansion No. 3 (all 2011) hang next to each other, each the same length and width but with different intricately cut-out patterns, which slightly expand and contract within each piece, creating a wave-like, almost meditative feel. The wall of Jensen’s Expansions are visual testaments to the undeniable fascination we have with the skill of the artist’s hand, how we will keep coming to see works like this that take hours and hours upon to make and are then hung for us to come see and marvel at, to spend time with, to point our friends toward. Jensen’s paper works, like the burgeoning English paper artist Rob Ryan (a personal favorite), attest to the laborious, lonely task it can often be to create the kind of delicate, temporal beauty that is still attractive, even today, when big, hefty, colorful art often takes the center stage and garners up the most attention.
Paired together, Wood and Jensen recall the power of repetition, the attractiveness of skill, and how an acute understanding of material all work together to create work that draws us in and keeps us there.
“Expansions and Stratifications: Karl Jensen and Ken Wood” continues at Good Citizen Gallery at 2247 Gravois, St. Louis until 1 October 2011. The gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays, 12-5. See http://www.goodcitizenstl.com/ for more information.