Bret Shirley: thank god it’s Friday, doesn't matter to me at Cardoza Gallery - KK Grether
The pieces which constitute Brett Shirley’s most recent show —thank god it’s friday, doesn’t matter to me — at the Pablo Cardoza Gallery can be described as familiar yet strange, chaotic yet orderly, complex while maintaining tasteful simplicity. To make sense of thank god it’s friday, doesn’t matter to me, I believe it is best to break down the works into three categories.
The first of these categories is his works in crystal. These pieces feel incredibly delicate and some how rugged, dainty with a rough quality, and a polished rawness. Photographs do not truly illustrate the subtlety of these pieces. In The Person, Erased from the Earth and Long Way Back from Hell crystals form complex textures, bright blues and deep purples, which produce an otherworldly feeling. These pieces on one hand feel reminiscent of water and on the other feel as if they are toxic chemicals some how bound to the canvas. Cracks and holes are filled with a fixative to sure up portions of the piece making them seem to the viewer as delicate while still maintaining their structural durability. What is incredible about these works is that they are grown and not painted. This restricts Shirley to setting up the reaction which creates the works. This changes the creative process from one of perfection to one of managing chaos and randomness. This process of managing the chaos of organic growth produces pieces reminiscent of color field painting, but with a texture that is unique and can best be described as geological in form.
The second category consists of painted brushstrokes which feel purposeful while their construction hints at a high element of randomness. The most simplistic and elegant of these is The Velocity of Our Reach which consists of a simple brush stroke with hidden and seemingly random inclusions ranging from purple to magenta hues. Other pieces in this category such as Nothing Belong to Anyone and There’s Always Music in the Distance, seem to almost feel as if they are exercises in calligraphy. In each stroke there is a gesture and a feeling of purpose. Similarly to Velocity of Our Reach, each stroke is complicated with streaks running through them, but in contrast to Velocity of Our Reach these streaks transcend the gestures of the paint. Meaning that they are continuous throughout the shape of the strokes. For those who enjoy reverse engineering the process of making a piece this continue across the gestures is confusing. While the shape of the paint indicates that the shape was made through a gestural process such as painting, the continuous streaks indicate that a stencil of some sort was used. This obscures to what extent the artist has control, yet still illustrates a high level of mastery of his process and techniques. Once again, Shirley plays with the viewer by obscuring the way he controls chaos in his works. At first glance it appears that Shirley is exercising as much control as Jackson Pollock, who was notorious for a chaotic process including the inclusion of cigarette buts and randomly applied paint to canvas. But once you get closer it becomes apparent that there is almost a graphic quality to these brush strokes. This graphic quality conflicts with the artful qualities of the works and produces a difficult to describe tension. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be a struggle between order and chaos, but even this is a reduction of the struggle present in these brushstroke works. In addition to the forms and streaks in these works the choice of color and material create tension. Nothing Belong to Anyone and There’s Always Music in The Distance are prime examples of this conflict. The canvas used has a almost burlap quality to it giving a very raw feel, while the paint used has a gorgeous glow reminiscent of mother of pearl. This tension between the soft, matte burlap and hard pearlescent paint feels extraordinarily natural and complementary, similar to the tension between land and sea.
The third category of these works can only be described as well curated trash, a term I use endearingly. These are works feel as if they are highly polished found objects meant to punctuate more traditionally pleasing works. This category is where Shirley works with objects familiar to us, while forcing us to distance ourselves from his art. In Parese! Parese!, Shirley places resin casts of what what looks to be ambiguously vape pens, a parody label of Budweiser which reads “America’’ and a punk rock style patch which reads “MAN IS THE BASTARD”. This assembly of objects is entombed in a shadow box reminiscent of mass produced decor and award cases. Bringing this tapestry of semiotic devices together a sense of a bar and a brawl of sorts. Shirley brings us a chaotic and disorganized piece that some how looks as if everything is in it’s proper place. But perhaps the most interesting piece in thank god it’s friday, doesn’t matter to me is one which references Shirley’s past as a photography student. Hey How Are You This Place Is Wonderful is a cast of a DSLR camera without a lens placed on a deflated metallic cushion. These two objects sitting on a plywood pedestal addresses how saccharine and overly positive our image based culture produces little of use full value, like a deflated balloon or a camera without it’s lens.
What all of these works do is paint a picture of a world fueled by alienation and apathy. An abstract world which feels impossible to truly ever be a part. Instead of rage, Shirley encourages us to embrace this alienation and enjoy the distance between the viewer and the works.