michael j. morris

Work by Matt Morris and Eric Ruschman

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Cincinnati to see several art exhibits, most notably new work by my twin brother Matt Morris and friend Eric Ruschman. It’s been a few weeks and I still hardly feel that I am capable of putting words to my experiences of these shows and the work included in them, but I felt to pull to make an attempt before the freshness of my experiences of the work becomes even farther removed into the conclusion of this quarter of grad school.

I saw Eric’s show, “If Anything Happens You Are My Constant,” first and I was struck by several things. First, and this seems to be a recurring theme in my art experiences as of late, I was aware of how much my personal knowledge of Eric affects my perception of the work, and with that personal context, coming to this work with a context of having seen years of his work, both in exhibitions and in his studio. I truthfully cannot imagine how someone who does not have this context might experience the work. Thankfully, I saw the show with a friend who does not have that exposure or familiarity, offering me an insight into that kind of experience.

So with a disclaimer towards the stance of non-objectivity, I will try to relay my experiences of the work:

It struck me as very personal. Some of the work is representational, and even when not directly representational, the work has a sense of referentiality that seems reenforced by Eric’s sometimes esoteric titles. Yet in contrast to the personal-ity of this work, it felt somehow more open than previous work. My experience of Eric’s work has often been one of innocence paired with disillusionment, cute paired with both hope and cynicism. The content has previously felt more experientially driven, anchored in personal association, connotation, narrative, and anecdote. This work retained some of these elements: Eric’s work, both the representational and the non-representational, has a cuteness to it. There is a eruptive joy in his careful color palette. Something boisterous emerges from the contrast he creates between purples and teals, pink and black, red and blue, etc. The assertiveness of the vibrant palette seems sympathetic to the persistence of hope and the adamancy of disillusionment, the poignancy of that contrast reinforce and nuanced by the specificity of the palette. And while the careful specificity of the palette was retained (evolved?) in this work, assertive as ever, there was less association. I felt less directed towards specific experiences like memory, hope, or disillusionment. And yet certain details seemed to still address these ideas; I think I brought more of that to the work from previous work than was present in these particular pieces. In summary, I suppose, despite the specificity of certain elements in the work and the sense of the personal that they seemed to carry, the work felt more open to a wider range of association and appreciation, even just the experience of the color itself.

One piece affected me profoundly. The title had something to do with a banquet I believe. I found out later in conversation that it was intended as a kind of response or re-imagination of a surrealist painting. And there was certainly a surreal quality to it. It was (basically) a rectangular support, mostly a light blue with a fluorescent pink circle at its center; around the edges white foam cloud stickers drifted on and off of the support and the wall on which it hung. There was something about this pink and blue . . . it made me see spots. It seemed to flash when looked at directly. When I looked away, the pink circle remained imposed on my field of vision, as if scorched on my retina. Easily my optic nerves had been affected. And there was something refreshingly aggressive in this effect. I think I can be extremely sensitive to work that literally makes an impact or alteration within my physical body. This painting literally affected the way that I saw, it asserted itself to be retained for a time within my field of vision. If there was a “bite” to this show, it was (for me) in this piece. As I have said, Eric’s use of color has always had an insistence, a bold assertiveness to it (for me); here the color literally left it’s mark on me. There was a sense it which it felt a little like “op art,” but with more gravity to it. I think this had to do, again, with my familiarity with the artist. It was more than just a painting having an effect on my body; it served as a point of mediation for an inter-subjective collision (I think this might be said of all art; this was perhaps more palpable because of its lingering physical effect), between Eric and the viewer (me).

Another point of note included the situation of figures that I would have previously expected to be rendered two-dimensionally in paintings finding their way into three-dimensional sculptural form. Whereas I think Eric previously created windows (paintings) into situations, other worlds, of cute creatures, memory, and anecdote, now he has a points situated these figures into the actual space of the viewer, implicating the viewer into the world/situation he has constructed.

You can view a video of Eric offering a guided walk-through of the show here.

One image I found from the show on the facebook event page:

As a segue, I also wanted to share Matt’s writing about Eric’s show:

“Eric Ruschman’s new body of work entitled If Anything Happens You Are My Constant is constructed from a regimen of exercises in painting, installation and combinations of the two. Delicate renderings in oil paint of animal characters continue to make occasional appearances in a vocabulary of color, shapes and found objects that have broadened considerably since Ruschman’s previous exhibitions. Substitutions have been made, so that stickers, stenciling or the charm of the high-gloss monochrome are interspersed with his painted narratives; the saccharine visual experience that Ruschman masters now has some resistance built in. Rather than resemble the simply summarized life lessons represented in anthropomorphic Fables, a single take around the room involves paintings (some hung alone, in groups, or occasionally leaned at the bottom of the wall), objects and cluttered shelves—a game of chutes and ladders through the artist’s recollections and daydreams.

Ruschman has been occupied with the maturation process throughout his young career. What may seem like a logical set of steps from childhood to adulthood to some is called into question, deconstructed and reassembled into abstractions of life plans by Ruschman and his team of black kittens, unicorns, voles and other critters. Throughout the past year, he has been a collector of visceral experiences and unassuming bits of wisdom from his everyday life. Paintings make offhand or straightforward references to a day trip to an alpaca farm, evenings immersed in Cincinnati’s local music scene, tender moments with house pets and careful appropriations from pop culture, such as the empowered “Toonces the Driving Cat” of Saturday Night Live and Youtube fame. Ruschman has gravitated to these scenes because of a specific humanizing element and has drawn connections between disparate source materials in order to populate a situation in which playful, innocent characters find themselves caught in dilemmas of aesthetics, displacement and the challenges of adulthood.

Eric Ruschman earned his Bachelors in Fine Arts from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2007. He has an established exhibition record in the Cincinnati area, having shown at the Art Academy’s Pearlman and Chidlaw Galleries, ArtWorks Gallery, semantics gallery, Synthetica Gallery and the Cincinnati Visual Fringe Festival. This is his second solo exhibition. His work recently graced the cover of the first volume of the online zine Sparklezilla. Ruschman is also a curator and collective member of semantics gallery and U•turn Art Space, two alternative gallery spaces in the Brighton district of Cincinnati.

-Matt Morris
colleague, artist, freelance curator + art critic”

From Matt’s description of Eric’s work, I will segue into my experience of Matt’s exhibition. In comparison to Eric’s work (comparison comes naturally; I experienced the shows within hours of one another), Matt’s work was far more elusive, less assertive. To be frank, my language surrounding the work is similar. How to find words for experiences that seem to shift, transform, vanish, and reappear as your experience them? I’ll see what I can work out.

Also, as if it isn’t obvious, I cannot be objective about Matt’s work either. Far too much context. This is my disclaimer for subjective familiarity.

Matt’s show, “Pairs Well With” (continuing at Aisle Gallery, 424 Findlay Street 3rd Floor, Cincinnati, OH 45214, through December 20), is a “multimedia installation conceived and installed in direct response to the nature and idiosyncrasies” of the exhibition space. Its list of materials is expansive. Most notable for me were tissues, small found objects, light and translucent/transparent materials, clear paint directly on wall surfaces, etc. The entire show seems to suggest evanescence, the fading, the vanishing, the spectre, the elusive, anchored in concrete matter, small, precise objects, the materiality of the space itself. There is a sense in which I felt the work functioning as a sheer veil, a hardly substantial reality, that pulled back to bring heightened attention to the space itself. I cannot experience this work without situating it in my experience of Matt’s work up until this point. As he has shifted farther and farther into the realm of installation work, I have felt increasingly that an intention or function of his work is the elevation of the mundane into something sacred, the expansion of the art or aesthetic lens to include the banal, the overlooked, the forgotten, the unnoticed, beginning in the space itself, the materials included within the work, then extending this elevated attention into the psyche of the viewer. This experience was pervasive throughout this work.

There was a performativity to this work, a responsiveness to the viewer’s presence, motion, perception, and attention. As one walks down the long hallway where tissues are suspended lightly from their top edge across from object “responses,” the tissues flutter and float, disturbed or worried by the presence and motion of the spectator, almost clamoring for attention, but in a subtle almost beguiling fashion. There is a mysterious enchantment that takes place when something so fragile and like enlivens itself at your presence, then calms, relaxes again for your examination and attention. This performativity was in other work as well, where motion of thew materials were not presence, but the materials transformed in the perception of the viewer as he approached. Perhaps the most striking and memorable of these was a cardboard box that was part of a full room installation. At first glance this object registered simply as a box lying on the floor. But as one approached, it illuminated, shimmering radiantly with a fine sprinkling of glitter over its surface. This moment of transformation, in which the object reveals itself as something more than it seemed at first apprehension, was an essential quality throughout the exhibit, and completely definitive of the process of elevating the mundane to a place of the sacred or aesthetic. This occurred again and again throughout the work, in transparent paintings on walls that only revealed themselves in certain angles of the light, in a pedestal that seemed solid from afar but then revealed itself as styrofoam filled with styrofoam packing materials, something far lighter and (dare I say?) less reified than a gallery pedestal. Other works were fairly concrete materials, but almost hidden, overlooked, at the base of walls, in the shadows, etc. Once they were noticed, my attention was heightened even farther, looking for all that I may have overlooked. This way of looking extended, as I left the gallery and went “back into the world,” bringing more relevance to my environment around me, and extending, perhaps, even into myself. The work provokes a kind of buzzing calm, an awareness to detail, a sensitivity to subtlety and nuance, that infected my self awareness as well.

I wish I had titles to post here. Their wit and cleverness were a sensational part of the nuance and subtlety of the show.

Which may bring me to my last point. This exhibit was a championship of subtlety and nuance, both of which are essential elements in my own aesthetic. There is something so sophisticated about work that doesn’t reveal all, that holds back, obscures certain elements, demands time and attention and even affection in order to uncover or reveal itself more fully. The work behaves as a refined madam, sparkling and shining in only specific light from certain angles of approach, fluttering lightly, gently to attract attention at which point she sits back to be admired. The lightness and ephemerality of the materials demand a kind of intimacy if they are to be understood, a care and (dare I say?) commitment of time in order to tell their secrets. If seen through a rough or hasty glance, the work may provoke the statement, “There’s nothing here.” But it’s in investing in that which is there that the materials work their enchantment, revealing themselves as an entire universe of subtle details and transmogrifying of the act of perception. It is a spell that lingers.

A short talk through of the work can be seen here.

A few images lifted from the facebook event page for the opening reception:

I think those are all the words I have for my experience of this work for now.

Eric’s show is up through 5pm today at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, Kentucky (1028 Scott St.).

Matt’s show is still up as mentioned above. The full information for the show is as follows:

“Matt Morris
Objects + Installations

Pairs Well With is a solo multimedia exhibition by artist and writer Matt Morris that has been conceived and installed in direct response to the nature and idiosyncrasies of Aisle’s newly expanded gallery space.

Aisle Gallery
424 Findlay Street 3rd Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45214

M-F 1-4 p or by appointment 513.241.3403

November 7 – December 20, 2009
November 7: opening reception, 7-10 p
November 21: artist talk, 1-3 p”

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