Visual Arts

Air Apparent

If you read last month's Art in America, you know that Studio LoDo (along with a lot of other deserving art spaces in the Scottsdale/Phoenix/Tempe megalopolitan area) is now officially "on the map." Those of you who've been to this warehouse space with a loading-dock entrance don't need to wonder why. Those of you who haven't might want to go now, while gallery director Kathleen Thomas is showing the work of painter Jaroslaw Flicinski and sculptor Scott Reynolds.

Flicinski, who lives in Gdansk, Poland, painted the works at Studio LoDo -- three latex wall installations and several oils on cotton -- over a period of several weeks. They're descended from Mondrian and Albers by way of neo Geo, but they're not about emphasizing a sense of ironic distance from their sources. In fact, there's something remarkably personal and immediate about Flicinski's painting.

Maybe that's because he's so clear about his use of painting as a system for marking a period of time spent ordering a particular space, and maybe it's because we can see the tiny human flaws and hesitations in the brushwork. (The painting on the farthest wall of the gallery -- a large white gloss star on a matte white background -- is a little different; the edges are hard and perfect. But the edges aren't what you're supposed to notice in this work, unless you stand right up close to it. What strikes you is the way the star seems to pulsate gently between the wall and your eye.)

Looking at Flicinski's work, several things happened to me: I thought about the artist standing in the gallery, deciding which permutation of a particular pattern to paint next and how to arrange it given the architectural space -- over that doorway, around that rectangular vent. And, in registering the intricate patterns, I was forced to pay attention. It was like reading music as opposed to hearing it.

Photographs serve as points of inspiration for Flicinski -- he'll pick a series of shapes or a seemingly mundane detail in a photo and focus on that element, painting numerous variations on the original theme. The giant canvas in Kathleen Thomas' office at the gallery, for example, is part of a series called Flowers and Stars that was inspired by a coffered ceiling. In it, Flicinski plays with flat versus "three-dimensional" shapes on a two-dimensional surface, and he's painted the pattern that covers the canvas on a slight angle, so that at first glance the piece looks crooked. (Thomas says that people who see it for the first time often tell her it needs straightening.) The palette is an unlikely mixture of earth tones, primary colors and pale pastels that shouldn't work but does.

Flicinski's heartfelt intellectual tartans and stripes go well with the sculpture of New York artist Scott Reynolds, whose architectural pieces are smart-funny without being pedantic or pretentious. (It's easy to imagine that an artist who lists "air" as one of his materials might be sort of pretentious, but Reynolds is just being literal -- without the air that fills the vinyl and fabric portions of his sculptures, they'd collapse.) And while he plays with our visual and logical expectations in what he calls his "sculptural fictions," it's never for the purpose of showing off. Like Flicinski, he's just interested in patterns in space and how we experience them.

Reynolds' untitled line drawing, a sculpture hung on the gallery wall, looks like part of a prototype for one of the Wright Brothers' early flying machines. Its appearance is metallic, but it's actually built of strips of Styrofoam, sandwiched between thin layers of silver paperboard and held together with gold paper-fasteners, and the whole elaborate contraption casts a network of shadows on the wall behind it that underlines its complexity.

As with all Reynolds' work here, the execution is painstaking; closer examination only reveals just how carefully crafted each sculpture is. Check out Three Car Garage With Attached House: A series of three silver-painted wooden panels on the wall are lit by three thin fluorescent tubes attached to the frame of the skeleton "house" that sits in front of them. The wood panels look strangely painterly -- amplified by their silver coating, the whorls and waves of the wood grain shine brightest where light catches them.

The installation is accompanied by the constant hum of small fans working to keep the fabric portions of the sculptures inflated, and the cords that power the fans and lights snake into and around all Reynolds sculptures. There's an interesting inherent contradiction here: All the currents of energy are devoted to maintaining the seemingly static quality of these engaging works.