By MIKE MENNONNO
Stacey Alickman's work comes in two flavors: acrylics – or oil – on canvas, and gouache on paper. Her rich, dark and dense acrylic and oil canvases are sprinkled with bright, fanciful creatures composed of simple shapes, distinct echoes from the distant, but still eminently approachable modernism of Paul Klee and Joan Miro. These canvases have a dreamy underwater quality: some objects can be seen undulating in the shadows quite literally below the surface, while others bob sharply into view. The more frenzied of these, "Claudia's Nutshell," is a blur of motion whose precision of composition comes from its layers of applied chaos. We get the same sense of depth but her shapes are blurred. There is a narrative here, but Alickman allows the colors themselves to become her characters this time.
Her gouache works are in two series: "Kindergarten 1969", about "the emergence of childhood sexuality," according to the artist, and "The Mouth in My Gum," about language. In stark contrast to her acrylics and oils, Alickman's gouache pieces have a bright, childlike simplicity. They remain adamantly two-dimensional, reaching back to a time before perspective, before nuance, when a handful of essential symbols had to do the work (and play) of making sense of the world.
Alickman's works' are meditations on the ingenuity necessary to communicate before the acquisition of metaphors (and with nothing but a box of crayolas for your palette). The Kindergarten pictures are evocative, but necessarily flat. Likewise the resonance of "The Mouth in My Gum" pieces depends starkly on the text, as both visual and literal composition. There are layers- it's just that she has stripped all but the first one of them away.
The multiple layers, whether visible through the murk, hidden behind other layers, or stripped away altogether, are what binds the work of Alickman and Keith Maddy. It's hard, with so much technology available, to say that what is hidden under the surface and out of sight is completely invisible. Both artists invite us – either explicitly, through an artist's statement, or implicitly through teasing bits of "other works" peeking out from the composition – to contemplate what we cannot see (or say), and to think about process, technique, and, more abstractly, the physics of time and space, memory and change.
Maddy's mastery of collage has allowed him to apply it to delightful effect in his mixed media work. Precise to the point of precious at times, the pieces here are testaments to the power of obsessive attention. The compositions are busy and vibrant- yet remain organically balanced. You can't look at them without contemplating what went into them, both in material and method. This is part of their intimate, if almost invisible connection to collage.
His work literally traffics in invisible signs. "Detour," with its bright orange ovals bubbling up from a froth of mother-of-pearl, is a composition built on a road sign. While the color, texture, and reflective material remain, and there are visual clues as to the source material, the work that emerges is more about finding something unexpected in the process than about any objects found along the way. The journey is the destination, detours and all.
The compositions are compelling enough on their own that the use of materials like street signs never feels gimmicky. In fact, when I spoke to Maddy, I asked him about the element of kitsch in some of the pieces on display. In "Going With the Flow," pieces of a yard sale landscape peep through. In "Twilight," it's vintage curtains with a floral print. He sees the resulting compositions, built on top of these elements, through which pieces of them emerge, as independent of the associations and implications of kitsch. And it's a tribute to his keen eye and generous sense of beauty that he carries it off time and again, without resorting to irony.
Both artists bring this aesthetic of generosity to their work. They challenge but never taunt, content to let us to enjoy the bright baubles on the surface, but cajoling the more adventurous to dive in deeper and explore the realm of invisible signs.
"Alickman/Maddy Art Exhibition" is on view until January 2010 at the Hynes South Rotunda Art Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artists.