“Contained,” a group show guest curated by local art critic John Pyper at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, mulls “the life cycle of buildings, the unimaginable size of shipping containers and the vulnerability of nature to the more common trash barrels, plants and decorative gates that we interact with everyday.”
Philadelphia artist Alex Lukas’s untitled 2011 tour-de-force painting (pictured above) depicts ruins of buildings standing in a swamp under an ominous overcast sky. Rendered with watercolor, gouache, ink, acrylic and silkscreen and displayed on an about 10-foot-wide, custom-built frame that resembles a scaled-down billboard, the picture depicts destroyed cinder block walls of buildings. They’re cracked and moldy, and sprayed with graffiti. Chimneys, left after the rest of their buildings apparently rotted away, stand as sentinels. Elevated train tracks break off into a sheer dead end. An overturned car sits in a stream dotted with tires. A dead tree is carved with graffiti. It feels like the post-global-warming end of the world—though it’s mysterious why the buildings would be shattered the way they are. Maybe there was a war too?
It’s instructive to compare Lukas’s astonishing realism to the pair of watercolors here of graffitied old mill buildings by Tristram Lansdowne of Toronto. (Pictured above: Lansdowne’s “Hamburg Palimpsest.”) At first glance the works feel similar, but Lansdowne’s rendering is not as sharp, which spoils the illusion. And Lansdowne’s pictures are more straightforward representations, without the alluring apocalyptic intrigue of Lukas’s visions.
Other works include Pennsylvania artist Mark Franchino’s little wooden trash dumpsters that seem to be made from repurposed pre-fab cabinets; Miami sculptor Frances Trombly’s fabric woven to resemble a black plastic trash bag surrounded by crumpled up sheets of lined notebook paper on the floor; Medford, Massachusetts, sculptor Ted Ollier’s long Plexiglas box holding a tiny model of a shipping container to demonstrate the relative scale of cargo ships and their cargo; and Hartford artist Matthew Best’s quick, loose, little sketches of edible plants he spotted on visits to D.C. or Paris or Providence. (Pictured above: Best’s “SuburbanForaging.”) Aesthetically these works are interesting, but not exactly riveting.
But Pyper has put his finger on a current trend toward serious, highly-detailed realism and scale modeling to depict urban architecture and decay. It seems to somehow come out of Lowbrow’s gleeful, rascally embrace of kids cartoons, toys (models), and urban graffiti.
“Contained,” Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston, March 18 to April 24, 2011.