Nice piece of glass

Two artists explore the mysteries of desire

Danielle Kelly

What makes a thing erotic? What magical components conspire to make the sum of an object’s parts seductive? Sexy is a one-liner: in your face, clear as day, lit up like a neon sign. But the erotic is about what isn’t there, charged with mystery and promise. In Dust Gallery’s Make It Rain, painter Jeffrey Gibson and sculptor Curtis Fairman trade inspired barbs in a visual parlance of eroticism and allure.

Fairman’s name might be familiar, as the UNLV MFA graduate and Las Vegas resident appeared most recently in the Diaspora exhibition at the LVAM last fall. Anyone who saw that show was undoubtedly dazzled by the artist’s glass pieces made of household ubiquities, an extension of a previous body of work made of plastic housewares. The best of this work achieves Fairman’s goal to recontextualize and transcend the use and value of the original individual forms into an entirely other entity. Retaining the terrific humor of the previous work while adding fresh material tension and glamorous bling, the glass work sizzles.

Fairman continues this investigation of glass for the Dust exhibition. Although a bit short on the humor, the best of these new sculptures are concise and ineffable. “Boomshine” and “Sessy Yayo” provide instant gratification in a literal optical explosion. Both radiating forms have glass elements extending out from a stable central point. Unabashedly baroque, these decorative pieces undeniably pack a punch, but are a somewhat passive visual experience. No unanswered questions here. Sexy? Yes. Erotic? Not so much.

The two pale in comparison to “n’Yak” and “Bumping Uglies,” where Fairman really flourishes. One is made of clear glass, the other of mercury glass, and both are composed of two sphere-like forms in connective dialogue, a dualistic symmetry. Whereas “Boomshine” and “Sessy Yayo” are in the midst of release and afterglow, these two are on the verge of eruption. Tight and contained, they speak to one another at the exclusion of the viewer, not quite including you in their whispers: The glass belies the opacity of their intention. The presence of stainless steel and rubber meanwhile retains a residue of industrial production, pushing a fetishized, S&M kind of prurience. That Fairman uses generic store-bought items is kind of mind-blowing, as not even a hint of the object’s previous ubiquity is apparent. They are wholly themselves.

The placement of New York-based painter Jeffrey Gibson’s painting “Make Me Feel It” directly behind these two sculptures couldn’t be more satisfying. Each demands you look more at the other—a difficult trifecta from which to disengage. A prolonged study of the three other large canvases in the exhibition reveals an unexpected depth within flatness. The paintings appear stained and singularly concerned with surface in a very post-painterly way, as hard-edged stripes give way to fields of sprayed color and linear squiggles. Of the larger work, “Shred,” “Slice and Dice” and the aforementioned “Make Me Feel It” really sing. The artist plays overtly with the grid, as vertical and horizontal silver-ish strips in these paintings call attention to the shape of the canvas itself and flatten the field of vision. In spatial competition are expressionistic brush strokes of floating color above and beneath the stripes. Planes collapse and rejoin, a vertigo-inducing optical experience that’s alluringly come-hither, as the paintings simultaneously reveal and conceal.

Altogether, this creates a visual encounter akin to mash-ups or big band, where different sounds combine in a single voice. Aspects of the intermingled imagery appear sampled, like music, from graffiti found on any street corner in any city the world over. Gibson cites graffiti as subtle inspiration, looking to infuse his work with the urgency and anonymity that are necessary evils to street art. An aggressive eroticism is present in the work, along with the general sensation of bondage evoked by the way in which the silver strips appear wound around the canvases (and as evidenced in titles like “Wrapped and Bound”). Stained with hints of exigent activity, the paintings have a sultry urban lasciviousness.

What at first seems incongruous actually reveals itself to be a brilliant pairing. Both artists embrace sheer surface lusciousness, while on a deeper level employ an urban vernacular to address codes of desire and their attendant value systems (Fairman’s titles come from street slang).

And both play their cards fairly close to their chest, revealing only so much as to keep you longing for just a little bit more. A perfect show for the beginning of our sultriest season; thank you, Dust, for reveling in the start of what we know will be a long, torrid summer.

The bottom line: ****

Make It Rain: Through June 29 at Dust, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 880-3878


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