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December 3, 2003 - January 3, 2004, at Studio 343, San Pedro

by Andy Brumer

“Untitled,” 2003, copy
machine ink on paper.

“Hot Dog Man,” 2003, copy
machine ink on paper, 8 x 10".

“Three Hungry Chefs,” 2003, copy
machine ink on paper, 8 x 10".

“Flaming Nixon” (detail), 2003, copy
machine ink on paper, 8 x 10".

Though purposely removed from the hands-on act of painting, the xeroxed versions of photographs in this exhibition reveal Paul Carmichael’s roots in that discipline’s essentially compositional nature. Carmichael states that, “My work is an effort to reconcile image and abstraction, objective with non-objective. The present Copy Machine Series attempts to take an image that impacts the viewer and then increase the effect of that image by manipulating scale and color.”

Indeed, the work in this series increases in intensity in a reverse ratio to the process of its creation. For example, the artist snapped from TV a photograph of baseball star Mark McGuire in a classic follow through pose the moment after the player hit his record breaking home run. He then xeroxed the photo, reduced it to a one inch square and centered it on the copier’s paper. Though four times removed from reality (from the action on the field, to the TV’s image, then the photograph, the reduction of the photo, and finally the xeroxed work of art), the significance of the scene overpowers its diffusion and acknowledges its status as an icon of American sports history. More indirectly, the image is then able to comment on the manner in which delivery imbues the construction of cultural icons.

Carmichael shifts from the fun and diversion of sports to the tragic and familiar (to Baby Boomers, at least) silhouetted image of a Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire to protest America’s incursion in Southeast Asia. Taken from a book that further highlights the image with black ink, it was then reproduced by the copy machine. This very simple process of electronic duplication metaphorically alludes not only to the repeated beaming of this horrific event by network television into the living rooms of Americans and people around the world, but to the storage and disturbingly easy recall of this image in the minds of individuals.

Carmichael conveys humor in a charming piece called Cloney Island, which starts with a found photograph of people streaming (and screaming) down the tracks of a Coney Island roller coaster. The artist hand tints in yellow two life-size dolls that, for some reason unknown to us, are placed in seats next to two of the riders. The airy cross-hatched wood-beams of the roller coaster’s aperture create a well-balanced counterpoint to the darker, snake-like line of cars furiously cascading downward. If it weren’t for the artist’s subtle signaling of the presence of the dummies here, viewers might simply marvel at the picture’s classically modern sense of planar geometry and its pristine compositional repose, which is augmented by the anonymous status of the photographer. As it stands, however, Carmich-ael’s minimal manipulation of the picture calls attention to the narrative’s surrealistic absurdity, both personalizing the image and claiming it as his own.

The show reveals Carmichael’s talent for landscape work as well. One picture of an incoming storm, taken by the artist himself, becomes a tone poem in chiaroscuro, with patches and splotches of sky, trees and clouds flashing with the suddenness of the xerox machine’s bulb. Other pieces, which use what appear to be ordinary found photographs of flowers, bloom mystically into otherworldly fruits imbued with supple organic grace.