Engaging and Evocative: Abstractometry at the Frist

"Steals Clock. Faces Time" by Patrick DeGuira

“Steals Clock. Faces Time” by Patrick DeGuira

The Frist is in the process of turning-over its galleries to a new program of challenging contemporary art as well as an exhibition of paintings by Norman Rockwell. The highlight of the contemporary displays is 30 Americans — an exhibition of works by African American artists that spans three decades.

I’ll be covering all of these new exhibitions here, but I wanted to start with the first show visitors will see when they enter the doors off the Frist’s parking lot, accessing the Conte Community Arts Gallery.

The Abstractometry exhibit is a diverse display of paintings, collage and video that explores the ways in which the geometry found in architecture and graphic design informs the visual understanding of a place. Of course, abstract art is always the product of very personal intentions and the show’s highlights demonstrate how abstractions may often speak more directly to concepts and emotions than figurative or realistic imagery.

The primary motif in Terry Thacker’s photocopy collages is a roller coaster being swallowed by flood waters. It’s a second generation print depicting an actual coaster on the New Jersey shore in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. The image evokes scary summertime fun and a terrifying natural disaster simultaneously, creating a palpable tension like someone just dragged a phonograph needle across the joyous spinning of Frankie Cannon’s “Palisades Park.”

The roller coaster pieces in “Allegory: Petite Tigers” are similar to Thacker’s familiar abstract paintings – their process-based approach is evident in the repeating coaster motif and other elements that reiterate throughout his display. Most prominently, jagged black shapes copied on transparencies obscure the coasters, interrupting their sinewy lines and waterlogged turns. The ominous hues of the shapes imply dark intentions while their sharp angles suggest a predatory predisposition – just like the pointed head of a viper. Thacker’s dark abstractions represent nothing other than the fears and suspicions we may project onto them, and they’re a great example of the power of abstract images to evoke pure, intense emotional responses.

The painter and writer Brion Gysin applied mathematical permutations to his poetic verses, reordering the words of a single line over and over, exhausting every possibility and creating multiple meanings from one original sentence. Artist Bruce Nauman has adopted a similar sense of play in his explorations of language. In the Abstractometry gallery brochure, curator Mark Scala suggests that the same textual enthusiasms are on display in Patrick DeGuira’s wordy paintings.

“Steals Clock. Faces Time” features the eponymous phrase painted in tricky-to-read gray text on a gray canvas. DeGuira seems to be reporting on a clock thief sentenced to jail. Read differently, one might find “clock faces,” “steals time,” “time clock.” DeGuira’s words are even harder to see in the black-on-black of “Labor Painting (When the Horse met the Mule).” These paintings offer enticing statements without hinting at their meanings, and they’re rendered in such a way that one has to stand at a certain angle to the light just to make out the letters. It seems like DeGuira is playing a game, but it’s a fun one and – taking a close look at his careful colors, precise lines and seamless textures – it’s a beautiful one as well.

Read the full review here.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Joe Nolan

Joe Nolan is the visual arts editor. He is a poet, musician, artist and critic who distills the city's gallery scene from Nashville's east side. Find out more about his projects at joenolan.com. (Photo of Joe Nolan by John Rogers)