Terra Incognita

Shotgun Review

Terra Incognita

By Shotgun Reviews February 14, 2016

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Garrett Caples reviews Terra Incognita at Archer Bicycle shop in Oakland.

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In Terra Incognita at Art@Archer, Derek Fenner, Ava Koohbor, and Brian Lucas—who exhibited together last year at now-defunct Emerald Tablet—reprise their roles as poets equally adept at visual art. Lucas himself will be included in Dark Star: Abstraction and Cosmos, an eight-person exhibition of contemporary and historical visionaries at New York’s Planthouse curated by Hanuman Books guru Raymond Foye. I mention this because all three artists in Terra Incognita participate in a dissident tradition of mystical American art in which direct experience is prized over illusion. Koohbar’s assemblages make this clear; Nocturnal Bike (2015), an abstract arrangement of coiled wire and metal over a slate-like black background, features a real bicycle bell, which several attendees of the opening enjoyed themselves by ringing, though none were sanguine enough to grab the rolled-up dollar bills baiting the adjacent mousetrap of the two-panel Autobiography (2015). In the repurposing of everyday objects in uncanny arrangements—Sun-bent (2014–16) renders a sunflower from a hubcap and flaking rusty metal—her assemblages evoke the black humor of American surrealist sculptor David Hare.

Fenner demonstrates occult leanings via an abstract tarot deck and through a calligraphic technique equally attuned to graffiti and witchcraft. He underlines the poetic influence of the show with an Altar for John Wieners (2015), in which five copies of Jerome Mallmann’s photograph of the poet Wieners are surrounded by a blue box heavily scored by white calligraphy. But his strongest works eschew the calligraphic in favor of a geometric drawing style. Covenant (2015), one of these black-and-white pieces, creates an illusion of three-dimensionality by seeming to build up structures whose stability is undermined by conflicting elements, a continuous shifting of visual organization that immediately folds them back into experience.

Brian Lucas. Seventh Sense, 2015; mixed media on canvas; 36 x24 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Art@Archer, Oakland. Photo: Garrett Caples. 

Lucas continues along a path he has explored since returning from a six-year sojourn in Thailand in 2007. Recently he’s been pursuing a nonhierarchical illusion of depth, similar to Fenner but through different means. Lucas employs judicious touches of spray paint alongside an alchemical thinning of acrylic, the precise nature of which he refuses to divulge. The most ambitious painting here, Seventh Sense (2015), both irritates and fascinates me. I’m usually drawn to the elegance of his restricted palettes, like the green mantle surrounding a black-and-white center in Ab Ovo II (2010-16), so I find the rainbow spectrum of Seventh Sense comparatively garish. But the piece is a virtuoso demonstration of layering color, and its cosmic appearance reinforces the show’s theme of exploring new worlds through art.

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Garrett Caples is the author of a book of essays, Retrievals (Wave, 2014), and his third poetry collection, Power Ballads, will appear from Wave Books in September 2016. He recently co-edited Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems by Frank Lima (City Lights, 2016).

Terra Incognita is on view at Art@Archer, in Oakland, through April 30, 2016.

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