Masking strategies: Residue in DC

At Adah Rose Gallery, Brooklyn artist and writer Brian Dupont has curated “Residue,” an exhibition that celebrates contemporary artists’ gleeful, unapologetic, and often imperfect use of masking tape. In his curator’s statement, Dupont explains:

There is an old joke once told by gritty New York painters at the expense of their West-coast brethren. As it goes, the painters in California were besides themselves, lamenting that they were unable to finish their paintings. You see, the masking tape factory had burned down�

Such condescension, born of a devotion to process and drive for authenticity, is no longer relevant to today�s art world. Separating out the use of any tool by mere geography is a fool�s errand, and a handy roll of blue painters tape is mundane for its ubiquity in any painter�s studio. But ubiquity breeds familiarity, and we know where that leads. Snark aside, as any method of producing art becomes accepted and common, viewers will inevitably find themselves face to face with a work of art that is denuded of any mystery of conception or process. If the artist leaned too heavily on a particular crutch, the viewer cannot help but notice when the work falls down in a jumble of straight-from-the-tube colors or brush strokes everyone can tell came from a # 4 flat. The same holds true when looking at a two inch wide stripe that demarcates a hard-edge shift in the surface or terminates in a cartoon of a jagged tear. And when a gesture or material becomes too common it becomes taken for granted. The artists exhibiting in “Residue” do not succumb to facile tricks, but instead approach tape as a basic tool, without taking it for granted. Their aim is to make something new with the tool without making the tool the primary focus and their approach has led them down unique creative paths.

Sharon Butler is enamored with the HVAC systems and ductwork that occupy the roofs and snake through the industrial buildings where her studios have been located. She uses the tape to mask off the surface creating corridors and networks that move through larger spaces, but she confounds a plain architectural or diagrammatic reading by working directly onto unstretched canvas. The fabric�s supple tooth is distinctly at odds with the rigid metal she references. Just as HVAC systems are often jury-rigged on and into existing structures, Butler�s interest in casual construction leads her to work with the exposed climate units within the gallery. Her large painting is shaped around the air conditioning vent and radiator, making the gallery itself part of the painting.

JD Hastings and Toni Tiller

J.D. Hastings takes the tape fragments he uses to mask off larger paintings and recycles them into small studies, subsequently resulting in larger works quilted out of the ephemera. He sends his materials cross country to Toni Tiller, who adds to and edits the patterns, building in new complexity. The finished paintings speak to the community and craft that emerged from working the soft substrates of cloth before it was incorporated into hard industrial production. Their collaboration (notably spanning coast to coast) forms a recursive loop, as Tiller changes materials according to her own practice and then feeds the results back to Hastings. In the end there is no end; a single painting spawns multiple bodies of work that serve as simultaneous critique and evolution of the original.

Steven Charles has given his obsessive fields a mechanical twist. Instead of intricate layers of tiny dots of paint applied across the surface by hand, he has taken perforated film traditionally used in commercial printing to generate complex compositions where taped networks interact with color and gesture, moving in and out of focus. The sharp edges allowed by these materials give the work a strong graphic quality that is at odds with the organic growth of his larger paintings, but nonetheless hew to his own idiosyncratic vision.

Michael Callaghan (Image at top: Untitled, acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 x 3/4 inches ) started picking up bits and pieces of gaffers tape from the film sets he worked on, and stuck the left over strips onto plywood to make his first compositions. Building a simple activity used to pass the down time on set into a full-fledged painting practice, he has removed the bright cloth colors from their coded utilitarian efficiency and brought them into his painting as an industrially derived pallet. Now working on more conventional supports, he constructs layers of acrylic paint, and then excavates through the surface by removing the tape. His imagery is dictated by the surface he creates, moving from the constructed facades of architecture to the unearthed discoveries of archaeology.

I contributed a funny site specific piece painted in latex enamel on a linen tarp (pictured below) that incorporates the heating and cooling units. If you’re down in the DC area, stop by and check out the show. Adah Rose has created a quirky two-story gallery fashioned after an intimate Paris bookshop rather than a cavernous Chelsea space. It’s something completely different.

Sharon Butler, Processing Air, 2013, enamel latex and pigment on linen tarp, 78 x 84 inches.
Detail of painting posted above.

Residue,” curated by Brian Dupont. Adah Rose Gallery, Kensington, Maryland. Through February 9, 2014.


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  1. Kensington, MD is definitely not "DC", it is a blue collar old line inner suburb a goodly drive north of the actual DC. but I am pleased to see that it has a gallery, and that costs are apparently below those at 7th & F NW. …in the actual DC
    Robert in DC

  2. Nothing like a fatuous, nitpicking lesson in provincial geography to enhance the conversation about art. What a tool.

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