A Matter of Personality Through August 4; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; free. Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, 702-895-3893.
A Matter of Personality at UNLV’s Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery is a clean, spare and vibrant exhibition featuring paintings and sculptures by four Las Vegas artists: Sean Slattery, Scott Grow, Eric Burwell and Camilla Quinn. Artistic genius Marcel Duchamp inspired the title with his century-old quip, “All art is a matter of personality.” Unfortunately, Duchamp didn’t elaborate on what he meant—and he left a minefield. Linking artworks to personality risks reducing art to biography, when art is so much more than an extension of the artist. Perhaps Duchamp was referring to the temperament of the artworks themselves.
“Personality” aside, Burwell’s monochromatic black painting, without a title, makes a strong formalist statement about art in 2017. Note: The painting is not called “Untitled,” which would still be a title. There is no name for Burwell’s painting that swells and recedes, swirls and rests, its surface as active as intergalactic dark matter if it could sit still for a portrait. In shunning representation—and even the conventions of an exhibition—Burwell wants to return painting to its essentials: paint applied by knife, brush, finger and tube. The four-panel canvas records every brushstroke and smear, every daub and scratch, resulting in a gestural relic of the physical event of artmaking.
Slattery’s “Lake Travis” and “Lake Waco” take a very different approach, concealing the actual record of the artist’s hand. Working with found line drawings of landscapes, Slattery digitally manipulates the images through accumulation, distortion, scale changes and superimposition. An accomplished colorist, he combines, say, cherry, puce, aqua, purple and grape green. Pareidolia—a property of the mind in which patterns emerge where none formally exist—is his compositional principle: There are faces concealed in Slattery’s canvases. The facial structures contribute architecture to the picture plane, but the viewer doesn’t have to know that to engage with the vivid, layered complexity of the works, which stand on their own.
Grow contributes colorful, textured paintings on Dibond, melding paints, smoke bombs and resin in dense, speckled and spackled surfaces suggesting lunar terrain on the one hand and leached minerals deep in the mines on another. Quinn amps up the color and dispenses with the paint altogether. Her large, kaleidoscopic neon wall sculpture blends mandalas, rose windows and vintage Las Vegas in a fresh combo. The piece pulses with ancient geometric principles and 20th-century allusions without reading as retro.
Although the works by the four artists are very different, A Matter of Personality achieves cohesion because of its focus on process and materials in nonrepresentational art, and because of its expert hanging. That said, the exhibition title is problematic. At a time when claims about art and personality are difficult to make, Duchamp’s remark potentially distracts from an otherwise interesting show.