Davide Coltro's "Living Shrouds," detail

One hundred black-and-white portraits, with an emphasis toward the black end of the scale, repetitively line the walls of this solo exhibition by new media Milan-based artist Davide Coltro (on view April 1 through May15, 2010). Each work measures 16-by-13 inches and is encased in a plastic sleeve; the sole break in the lineup: a screen, similar in size to the portraits, playing a random feed of hundreds of these images, here brightly colored, melding slowly into each other, one after the next.

The portraits, which feature Coltro’s friends or people he’s met, were created with a standard office photocopier; the subject laid his or her head on the machine. This accounts for the mostly three-quarter or full profiles, with only a few head-on shots. The method also explains the darkness of the images and that everything surrounding the face is black.

To create the continually morphing screen feed, the artist uses a proprietary algorithm he wrote, which resizes, colors, and combines the portraits. The screen recalls and further pushes the work, “[Systems],” featured in the artist’s first exhibition at Wolfe Contemporary (2007), which focused on landscape. Again, Coltro approaches a traditional genre through his lens of unique technology.
While the printouts serve to support the screen module, the combination works well as a whole. While the screen steadily presents a never-ending march of faces over time, the single portraits snaking the gallery walls offer the whole crowd, all at once. And both views upend the genre: whereas portraiture originally highlighted an individual’s uniqueness, set him or her apart, these streams of faces remind us that we are one of many. The xeroxing process, which renders a visual sameness, reinforces this . So stark, unflattering, and similarly produced are the images, beauty and status become a non-factor. The end result is one of equitability and unification.

The one off-putting aspect of the show is the plastic encasing of the images; wavy and reflective, it makes the portraits difficult to see. (It’s curious to learn that this display was insisted on by the artist.) But still, the show works. The flow of images is harmonious; the screen, especially, is mesmerizing. And, this is at its heart a conceptual piece; it is the idea we take with us. We are all a part of this, in it together. There’s a comfort in that.

This review originally ran in art, ltd magazine.

Works by James Sansing and Jerad Walker were paired in a two-person exhibition at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art. A large site-specific sculpture installation by Sansing, Unifying Theory (2009), takes over the 1,000-square-foot front/main portion of the gallery while paintings by Walker fill the smaller space on the far side of the gallery.

James Sansing, "Unified Theory" (partial installation view)

James Sansing, "Unified Theory" (partial installation view)

In addition to sculpture, San Francisco–based Sansing, works in a variety of media, including photography, painting, and filmmaking. A conceptual piece, Unifying Theory is composed of numerous, variously sized box shapes made from wood that has been coarsely covered in concrete and concrete-coated fabric, and secured, when necessary, with cable. This work is a second iteration of Seeing Information (2007), which Sansing exhibited at the Headlands Center for the Arts—one of the many West Coast venues where the artist has had his work exhibited.
The largest element of the installation is an enormous and highly textured box shape that hangs from the ceiling and dominates the room. Pieces of the concrete-laden material drape from this shape, uniting it with smaller cubes on the ceiling and floor. The draped elements lead the eye upward to where much of the bulk of the installation exists in the form of numerous cubes of differing sizes, which are attached to or suspended from the ceiling; the remainder of the piece is comprised of a few boxy shapes on the floor, which appear to be partially smashed. The flat color of the concrete neither absorbs nor reflects the surrounding light but easily melds into the industrial, open surroundings and concrete ceiling of the gallery, its multipart entirety slowly revealed to the viewer.
Unifying Theory speaks to the idea of matter broken into elemental parts, indicating an interpretation of that which surrounds, composes us and united us but is too small to see. Taken as a whole, the installation holds the space with contemplative rough beauty reminiscent of works by Eva Hesse or Arte Povera artists.

Jerad Walker, "Green Grass"

Jerad Walker, "Green Grass"

 Oakland-based Walker is also multifaceted in his pursuits, working in a variety of media, photography and sculpture among them.  For this show, eight of the artist’s paintings, made between 2004 and 2007, are on view. All abstractions, they vary from organic and fluid shapes to geometric or pixilated imagery. Among the former, the stronger group of works, is the immediate showstopper, Green Grass (2004). Numerous swaths of a variety of greens, resembling grass, are layered over a shiny, mirror-like background made from resin. Layered, reflective and subtle, this painting has an engaging and lyrical quality. Also of note is Blue Sea (2006); true to its title, it resembles the sea’s surface. Here too the layered resin surface creates an emerging depth and the sense of movement.
At first glance, these two artists’ works appear to have little to do with each other; Sansing’s is large and raw, Walker’s bright and playful. Yet one comes to see that the pixilated paintings playing off of the concrete cubes. The fluidity of the installation mimics similar gestures in several other of the paintings. Then the conscious intent behind the pairing of the works slowly reveals itself. The viewer is moved from the realm of Sansing’s elemental blowing apart of the pieces to, in Walker’s works, manifestations of the unification of those pieces—crystalline geometry, nature. It is a quiet evolution, a cooperation of conceptual pursuits that are a delight to unravel, and then reassemble.

James Sansing and Jerad Walker closed June 27 at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art, San Francisco.