‘Unintended Consequences’ Compels and Beguiles

Charles Donelan Curates Show of Minimalist Works at Arts Fund

One artist uses blurry, burned marks on plywood. Another produces tiny organic images shining off aluminum. A third dangles paper sculptures from the ceiling.

What connects these images? At first, the relationship between these disparate art objects eludes. But upon careful inspection, themes from the show Unintended Consequences emerge and expand. All the works — selections from artists Ro Snell, Tom Pazderka, Alice Wang, Vanesa Gingold, and George Sanders — use lines, edges, minimalist gestures, and a restrained palette of colors to create a singular composition. Paper, often of handmade abaca, is a favorite material for many of the artists, and simple, overlapping layers and grids are prominent. The results are compelling and elusive works that provide more questions than answers and beg for further viewing.

Curator Charles Donelan, executive arts editor for The Santa Barbara Independent, brought together these works and artists because of their accidental techniques, the way their “unintended consequences” can yield surprising and delightful results. This idea is reminiscent of the automatic techniques employed by the Dadaists to free art-making from its tyrannical ties to the ego. In other words, kick intention out of the way, and let free-form expression, play, and the unconscious imagination create delightful works of spontaneity and intriguing visual dances.

The most remarkable difference between the artists in Unintended Consequences is their choice of media, from drawing to sculpture to video. The most direct pieces are by Snell, whose three works on paper are reminiscent of incidental organic marks found in nature, like scratchings left by the feet of forgotten birds on loose dirt. Repetitive and distinct, the marks allude to a larger idea without giving it away easily. “Chair Study” is an especially beautiful example of Snell’s process, with its delicate, layered paper and smudged charcoal lines. In less capable hands, the work could read as a study for something grander, but Snell creates a sophisticated, oblong, choreographed message of lines that could be a secret message in a simple new written language.

Like Snell, Sanders’s three images use paper but also expand to acrylic painting and canvas to riff on the colors red and white, as well as on grid shapes. One work, “Grid Paper, 2015,” even uses cinnamon-red dental floss to create that traditional tic-tac-toe shape. Straightforward and beautifully executed, the images have a childlike wonder that brings attention to a common yet striking pattern of boxes created by lines.

Pazderka and Gingold both use sculptures to explore their ideas, but with vastly different media and results. Pazderka’s wooden triptych “Dust” calls to mind the unfinished construction sites of the zombie housing projects produced by the recent building boom and bust. The burned wooden marks create gorgeous blobs of dark mystery. Gingold’s “Torso” is the most concrete of all the works. As it sounds, the sculptures, which are made from patches of colored paper over a wicker armature, echo the human form but with key parts curiously missing.

Wang, meanwhile, uses aluminum plates and video for her expressions. Organic and reminiscent of DNA or biological testing slides, the images felt slightly unfinished but still gripping. Unfortunately, the video work was turned off, and so its content was lost.

Deliberately, all these artists avoid any simplistic reference to narrative or didactic content. The pieces are open-ended to a fault. Still, rather than creating a cold chamber of sterile marks, the lack of concrete contact points in these images forces the viewer to contemplate the importance of an artist’s process over the content of their work. Looking at Unintended Consequences, it is impossible to forget that art is made by humans, for humans, with a living, breathing body behind it all.

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