Sunday, August 15, 2010

Retrograde at Kahwa South

Retrograde: adj.  - "Opposite to the usual order; inverted or reversed."

This show's three photographers (or is it two photographers and one graphic artist?) all hail from the same stable: Vitale Art Studio. Johnny Vitale, proprietor, Bruce Stratton, whom I was told works there, and Rachel Doherty, whose internship at Vitale is soon coming to a close, from Columbia College in Chicago.

Rachel's works lean to the conceptual, as in "Now, In 3-D". In this B&W photograph we see the torso and legs of a woman sitting down, holding an empty (11x14?) frame with her right hand, just above her lap. Her left hand and bracelets reach through it, towards the viewer, almost as if to shake hands. The subframe, in effect, creates a secondary image within the main one, but also questions and attempts to revert and oppose photography's transformation of light echoing from an object/person/scene from a 3-D image into the familiar 2-D print. The flatness of the print is inverted. The works shown from Rachel were conceptual, witty, introspective scenes.

Bruce Stratton creatively framed his pictures vertically, as if being viewed in outsized iPhones (3Gs?). They look like they might have been taken with one. These pictures are deceptively casual-looking. We see signs of American Luminism (Eggleston, Meyerowitz, Greiner, et al.) in these pictures: The legacy of Atget through Walker Evans (via Berenice Abbott) in the signage and implied men at work. The accessories of urban workmen, like the dozens of orange dollies parked in front of what looks like a Home Depot, initially appear to be a giant merry-go-round, they end up being about more work than play. In another picture, we see what seem to be water, heating, or sewage pipes, idle, but in the process of being installed or maintained. In another, there is a view of a sign, looking up from the floor through the window of a work truck.

"Rained Out" shows a misty, rainy day, with a large banana leaf arcing from bottom-center to midline-left of the picture. Behind it, a driveway, with a workman's trailer parked. Lush lawns behind it and across the street. A ranch-style suburban house sprawls there. Is the workman rained out?

Johnny Vitale's works are composites of several pictures digitally collaged. There's a human figure and face in every image, lots of cultural signifiers, too: That familiar pyramid and the "Annuit Coeptus" on the dollar bill, a boom box, old Ford (I think) and checkered sneakers, for example. The faces in these images are not deadpan in the slightest. They grimace, perform, and stare at us. These are not postcards from Pleasant Valley.

In "New Rules", The figure of a young boy dressed in a (Halloween?) costume stands in the center of the frame, shown from his thighs-up. He looks terse and appears to be holding an XXL machete, which, perhaps coincidentally, is rather penile looking and at the right angle. Behind the boy is a yellow bus which Vitale has outfitted with mag wheels and low profile tires. Sandwiched in-between is a sideways picture of the fire escapes from a tenement building (?). Behind that a concrete wall with a spray-painted (house?) number. On the right edge of the picture, a chair on its side, in its own subframe. Before the boy, at waist-level, is a painted white rectangle, with drips. Behind the boy's head is another white painted rectangle, sans drips. The rectangles serve to add false dimensionality fore and aft, also placing visual torque, almost tilting the boy forwards, and resonating at 90 degrees from the picture plane. 

--- Luis

PS. "Retrograde", with 17 works from Rachel Doherty, Bruce Stratton and Johnny Vitale. Opened Sunday, August 15th. It is at the Kahwa Cafe, a beautiful, quiet place to read one's NYT or laptop, or bring a group of friends, and enjoy great coffee, cookies, etc., that in mid-afternoon looks more than a little Hopperesque. 204 2nd Ave, S., St Pete. 727.821.1942

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