RVW | Tori Bryer and Christopher Shotola-Hardt
Two exhibitions freeze and disrupt the flow of time.
Tori Bryer and
By Teresa Fredericks, MA CT+CR ’14
The work of Christopher Shotola-Hardt and Tori Bryer, currently on joint display at Blackfish Gallery, is a striking juxtaposition of medium and narrative style. Upon entering the gallery, it is not immediately clear how these works, so disparate at quick glance, actually work together. While Tori Bryer’s work may be more eye-catching, it is Shotola-Hardt’s work that presents itself to the viewer first, welcoming the audience into the space by means of a large found object, Barn Owl. Following are various paintings of egrets, pheasants, swans, cranes, and a host of other avian specimens, each presented as if its winged subjects were sitting for a commissioned portrait or study.
As art historical metaphor, the bird has been used to represent socio-spiritual themes of regeneration and transcendence. In Shotola-Hardt’s work, this symbolism comes full circle: the bird becomes a feathered humanoid in the narrative and social seat of history painting. The intimate detail and ornate layering of the bird-figure collapses linear history and replaces it instead with the impossible dynamism and forgiveness of flight: it’s as if a Grant Wood landscape crept into the Gothic urbanism of a Dürer print. Portrait of Francois I on Horseback (After Francois Clouet), for example, pays both titular and visual homage to art historical matter as framed by contemporary allegory. There is something comforting and familial in these works, but a foreboding joust with antiquation looms in the knowing eyes of anthropomorphized subjects. Jumping from canvas to canvas, it seems Shotola-Hardt’s subjects are navigably asserting their lineage and identity. Making use of myriad styles, Shotola-Hardt references and re-envisions craft, folk art, Enlightenment still-life, cubism, and cave painting in this exhibition, and the works, in turn, are grounded by a flocking palette of muted gray and a tactile robin’s egg blue.
If Shotola-Hardt’s work disrupts the flow of time, then Tori Bryer’s work forces it to stand still: her themes provide the figurative branch upon which the bird might alight. She hollows out points in time through her vibrant and textural monotype technique. In each work, an after image burns like the sun in the aromatic depths of seasonal upheaval, creating a geometric coppice of Matisse-like shapes. Noisy brushstrokes and venous plant matter float on the pulpy paper like leaves compressed in volcanically fossilized rock, in a turbulent soup of mud, frost, and fog. Works like Soft Heat and Whirlwind, for example, suggest atmospheric conditions brought about by chaos. The ground, while malleable and belching beneath, is frozen at its surface. This grounds the two-dimensional shadow that mirrors the technological apparatus of reenactment, as in Thin Blue. Referencing fragments of Boleslawiec pottery or brittle vinyl records, Bryer’s work underscores the visual nature of cyclical destruction, itself a perpetual Taos Hum. The interplay between Shotola-Hardt’s loose narrative and Bryer’s flat anti-narrative is stimulating, intriguing, subtle, and not to be missed.
Tori Bryer and Christopher Shotola-Hardt, is on view at Blackfish Gallery in Portland, OR, through November 2, 2013.