January 25 - March 1, 2003
Opening Reception
Saturday, January 25th, 2003, 5 - 7 pm
Robert Russell Skaters Larry Bemm recent paintings
Robert Russell
For his third solo with frumkin/duval gallery, Robert Russell continues and expands on his ideas regarding relationships between class and culture through the lens of portraiture painting. Russell's first exhibition at the gallery, "Drive-by", was a series of portraits of random people on the streets of Los Angeles which he followed with "Eight Gardeners", a series of portraits and sketches of gardeners from his Echo Park neighborhood. In Skaters Russell reflects on the cultural status of his sitters - stigmatized skateboarders banished to practicing an art in "Éthe concrete ruins of the 20th century." (Craig Stecyck) He does so by adopting some of their ideology and by echoing their outsider status through his choice of process and medium. Skaters is a series of spray-painted portraits on canvas that cleverly touches on the parallels between skateboarding and graffiti as renegade street arts that develop into widely accepted and popular art forms that are absorbed into mainstream culture. More so, however, Russell is referring to the original ideology behind the sport and its relationship to the process of figure painting. Using the most primitive tools, a piece of wood and four wheels, skateboarders have for years attempted to simulate the sensation of gliding across ocean waves and flying overhead. Here, taken by the optimism and romance of that process, Russell has chosen to portray these adventures himself, using only simple tools. He creates the illusion of a three dimensional figure by spray painting over various shields that hover above the surface of the canvas. In this way he slowly builds the figure out of a series of hard-edged shapes and overspray, controlling only the areas on which the paint will not fall. Russell set the task for himself this way: "The placement decisions for these shapes are made using a similar, random intuitive process that one makes while skateboarding. Given that the white areas of these pictures are the raw canvas, the margin for error is minimal and mistakes are destructive. This medium presents a symbolic as well as actual level of risk parallel to that of skateboarding." With this new series Russell reasserts the power of the medium of both skating and painting as dissident activities and by aligning "my pictures with this medium, I wish to de-brand the activities respectively."
Larry Bemm
recent paintings
frumkin/ duval gallery is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of recent work by Seattle based painter Larry Bemm. His first solo exhibition at the gallery will be a group of large abstract oil paintings that are restrained yet exuberant celebrations of color and form. Bemm grew up in Chicago in a family of artists. His great grandfather was a landscape painter, his uncle taught painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his mother makes finely crafted wooden toys. Working from a dictionary Bemm selects words or phrases that inspire him and then begins his painting. He says he isn't sure of their influence, but they free his imagination. His first step in each canvas is to "feverishly get rid of any white." He randomly paints ovals over monochromatic areas where the brushwork is largely invisible. The interruption of these broad color field expanses gives the work a spontaneous yet controlled appearance. In an Art in America review, Matthew Kangas compared the work to "distantly recall(ed) Clyfford Still, but with a great deal more informality suggestive of improvised drawing." In some new paintings, Bemm adds a border-like fence of bright color that creates a gravitational pull on the other elements on the canvas or a series of dotted lines that keep the eye moving across the surface. There is a musical quality to these works and the viewer has the sense of following a bouncing ball in time with an underlying theme. The most common reaction to Bemm's work is for its joyful exuberance that characterizes the artist as well. "I don't let negative things define me. I keep my mind very open, not in a formal way. I'm not involved with religion or philosophy. I'm just very involved with the people I'm involved with." Bemm has taught at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Art in Chongqing, China. He moved to Seattle, Washington in 1994 where he lives with his wife and baby son. He is now a full time artist and dad. He is represented in New York by Kimberly Bernardos and in Seattle by Bryan Ohno Gallery.