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April 14 - May 12, 2007 at Tinlark Gallery, Hollywood

by Elenore Welles

Tinlark Gallery, located in a 1936 landmark complex in Hollywood, was established to focus on emerging talents.  “Coping Mechanisms” features three artists who aim to illuminate core moral principles.  But rather than operating in the categorical realm of theology, or the analytical  world of philosophy, they operate within the aesthetic universe of ambiguity.  Each of their compositions transmutes reality into irrational elements. . .a way of conveying  meaning without being specific.

Grant Barnhart, "This Isn't the Time Nor the Place," 24 x 48".

Grant Barnhart, "The Royal We," 24 x 48".

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"Coping Mechanisms" article

Grant Barnhart, "To Whom it May Concern," 24 x 48".

In the works of Grant Barnhart and Andrew Au, however, the morality of politics and political discontent is patently manifest.  Both play loose with classical mythology, using fragments of history to presage the dark results of technology on external and internal environments.  Frustrated with the never ending absurdity of war and hyper-industrialization, their supernatural and surreal mythologies evolve as strange, re-invented science.

Barnhart, whose background is in illustration, distills historical precedents with a dash of Marvel Comics, invoking the mass media that have surfaced as an animated visual language reflective of our culture.  Using a unique blend of acrylic, graphite and oil, his works often mimic film’s wide screen format, which comes across as an attempt to satirize entertainments that distract from more pressing issues.  In detailed narratives such as “Art in America” and “The Royal We,” animals battle for dominance with human and machine hybrids.  It’s a warrior world in all forms.  Intentionally jarring, the bizarre combinations defy conventional explanations.

Andrew Au’s intricately rendered digital prints re-invent ancient, mystical and religious symbolisms to evince fear and loathing of the powers that be.  Admittedly a political malcontent, Au sets out to challenge the notion of heroic Americanism.  In “Banque D’ Epoch Eclipse,” a series of twelve prints numbered like fanciful bank notes, he attacks all kinds of totalitarianism, as well as a full assortment of social ills.  His dense visual motifs are populated with wildly evocative machine, animal and human hybrids.  They rail against injustices that include the culture of excess, the military, the destruction of the environment and religious fanaticism.  Au’s complex visual layering requires more than a cursory glance to interpret, but their meanings are too demonstrably evident, particularly when phrases on banners clearly announce the artist’s sentiments: “Secretaries of Fear & Control” or “Architects of Terror.”

Anthony Au, "Banque D'Epoch Eclipse 1:
Project for the New American Century," 2005,
archival digital print, 14 3/4 x 19 1/4".

Anthony Au, "Banque D'Epoch Eclipse 12:
One Planet Reiant on G.O.D.," 2005,
archival digital print, 14 3/4 x 19 1/4".

The show’s essential premise speaks to physiological states in the wake of American nihilism.  In Nancy Baker Cahill’s surreal multi-media works, the theme is approached from a distinctively feminine view.  Baker Cahill uses encaustic and graphite on wood, often incorporating hooks, oil and thread.  Acknowledging inspiration that draws on the works of Kiki Smith, Eva Hesse and Alice Neel, the artist primarily navigates the avenues of feminism.  Though she tackles a series of contemporary public concerns, including the precariousness of our environment and the excesses of consumption, her primary focus is gender awareness.  Baker Cahill evokes that awareness by developing her own private symbols and by building textures that contain layers of meaning.  A pertinent example is the replication of lace doilies and needlepoint through etching and painting, a reference to traditional feminine activities.

Nancy Baker Cahill, "Dive."

Nancy Baker Cahill, "Sage Grouse."

Women’s work, as it relates to the  pressures of domesticity, labor and social class, is expressed in depictions of shopping carts.  The carts, which figure prominently in a series of paintings, are used not only to embody a type of women’s work; they also represent rampant consumerism and homelessness.  In “Hanging Carts,”  a line of shopping carts hover surreally against a bright red background.  In the distance, an urban landscape looms ominously.  Baker Cahill also develops a  series of  mythologies around birds and insects that are beautiful but lethal.  They symbolize women’s vulnerabilities and the need to protect themselves against aggression.  “Dive,” for instance, represents the secretary bird that kills its prey by stomping on them.  Ironically,  the vivid colors and lush textures of these paintings are so aesthetically pleasing that the symbolism tends to get muted in translation.

What initially appears to be nihilism in this show is really a concern with the dismal effects of political and social apathy.  Though the artists’ antipathy may be evident, the good news is that there is enough layering of content to make easy analysis elusive.