Writing Archive

True Identity: Dorsch Gallery shows post-modern woodcuts

Coral Gables Gazette, December 1, 1999

With no single ascendant style, the thing to look for in the thrashing sea of postmodernism is the island of sincerity: the artist who can select from the infinite possibilities of treatment and subject matter, and by relentlessly investigating himself, make art which is ever more heartfelt and well-crafted. Brian Reedy, whose work is currently on display at the Dorsch Gallery, is this kind of artist.

Reedy's style is truly singular, and considering the great number of artists in the world, it's rare to be good but resemble no one. He draws on a particular slice of pop culture which includes toys, vintage and modern comic books (two very different things, as he and any other connoisseur will tell you), and zany b-grade horror films. He also has a profound appreciation of anatomy, figure drawing (at which he excels), and the tradition of the medieval woodcut.

This last influence is the most important one. Its primitive but compelling depictions of saints being hewed, grilled, rent, sawn, and otherwise imaginatively mauled for their devotion to God have deeply impressed Reedy. His work deploys an elegant version of their naive style to tackle moral, psychological, and existential dilemmas.

One might consider Decision, a woodcut depicting a man whose head pokes through the roof a cage containing his fur-covered body, with claws for hands and feet. He is about to drop the key to this cage down his gaping mouth, having decided that there is nothing to be done about his animal parts except imprison them once and for all.

There's also Honesty, picturing a roaring gorilla in a gorilla suit, whose inner self has turned out to be no better than his façade. In They Can't Help You Now, mocking angels hover over the shoulders of a distraught figure whose lungs have turned into devil heads. Flutter Inside shows a man whose body is a cage of squawking, flapping crows. Throughout the show runs a theme of negative psychic forces which can only be expunged or reconciled through the most drastic measures, if at all.

Some printmakers adopt a kind of print-for-print's sake mentality, and are prone to investing long hours on clotted, inelegant statements. By contrast, Reedy can use traditional woodcut and lithography to great effect, but his aesthetic is larger than any purist notions about media. In particular, he has developed an interesting technique of cutting an image into wood and painting the surface with acrylics, which captures all of woodcut's graphic power while generating a palpable physical presence.

This is the medium of the centerpiece of the show, a diptych entitled Dirtnap. Reedy portrays himself as a homunculus in a space suit and a floating battle chair, with the top of his brain visible under a glass dome. A female head (actually a portrait of his wife, the artist Claudia Scalise) floats above, dangling her thoracic organs, exposed but in their proper anatomical positions. A figure whose head is flayed to the muscles and whose body is all circulatory system is toting a machine gun. A winged animal skeleton flies by armed with an hourglass, which is worse. These last two are getting blasted by the couples' golden death rays. (Hers emerge from her eyes in a particularly striking manner.)

I interpret it as a paean to his wife in the form of a Fantastic-Four-meets-the-Book-of-Revelations battle, saying that whatever happens, they are on the same side in the fight. This interpretation agrees with the loving craftsmanship, careful drawing, and religious-icon palette used to execute the piece.

Other works in the show also display Reedy's imaginative powers: a series of transferred photographs which proves that he could have a brilliant career in claymation if he wants one, a delicately drawn lithographic self-portrait as part Persian warrior and part thalidomide baby, retired woodblocks painted and framed in thick steel. In the course of expressing a personal vision, his work elicits many smiles and a truckload of respect.

Brian Reedy: True Identity is on display at the Dorsch Gallery through December 18. Call (305) 856-4080 for more information.

Word count: 676

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