Shotgun Review


By Danielle Sommer June 16, 2010

Alexander Cheves likes to play with perceptions. His brightly colored paintings and sculptures of house-like forms, currently on view as part of a solo show called spacetime at Rowan Morrison, allude to invisible horizons and impossible perspectives. This is the power of Cheves’ work—it constantly straddles the moment when unknown quantities become known and the unfamiliar becomes familiar. It is a moment of hope, but also of potential betrayal; we want so badly to recognize things that we often assign them a meaning or narrative that was never there.

spacetime is full of this tension. It’s a small show, just three sculptures surrounded by a scattering of twelve-by-eighteen-inch paintings, but the repetition of colors and shapes between the pieces creates an impact. In Lakeside (2010), the silhouette of a small turquoise house—exactly like a kindergartener might draw—sits in front of another sky-blue form that could be a shadow, or possibly the rest of the house seen at three-quarter view. At the top of the painting, a second house hangs upside down. This shape appears frequently in Cheves’ work. He usually pairs two houses together, surrounded by negative space, forcing us to question the relationship between the two. In the case of Lakeside, I found myself wondering if the house on top was falling, or maybe just gliding gently off the canvas. Is collision imminent, or are the houses even in the same space?

On the surface, Cheves’ sculptures are less ambiguous. Their pedestals’ square white tops act as backgrounds for the brightly painted, house-shaped wooden blocks that lie tipped on their sides on top of trapezoidal color fields.

Drift, 2010; oil on wood panel, 12 x 18 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Rowan Morrison Gallery, Oakland.

The ability to view the sculptures from multiple perspectives creates tension in the paintings, which lack perspective. What looks like a house from one side is merely a square from the other, an experience heightened by watching the shifting relationships between the sculptures and the paintings.

In the hands of another artist, the moment that Cheves’ work investigates could become uncomfortable, even polemical, but one gets the sense that Cheves is having fun with his explorations, and wants his viewers to as well. His poster-paint palette and childlike materials (wooden blocks) add playfulness, communicating that the point is really just to enjoy the moment. Any conceptual ruminating on the relationships that make space into place—on knowing when something “is”—is an added bonus.


Alexander Cheves’ “spacetime” is on view at Rowan Morrison Gallery in Oakland through July 3, 2010.


Danielle Sommer is an artist and writer residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She reviews art, books, and new media for KQED Arts and Culture, and is pursuing an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts.

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