This past Thursday and Saturday I finally made it to Mark Garrett’s exhibition of collage/scissor-cut paintings at Dogpatch Café on 3rd and 20th in San Francisco’s latest trendy art neighborhood. Installed in the pleasant gallery adjoining the Café,
the show provided a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the Bay Area seriously interested in meaningful contemporary art to see an uncommonly innovative body of work.
I’m more than grateful that I didn’t miss this display of about 20 works created between 2010 and the present. Varying in size from small to fairly large, they are unified by an unusual and provocative use of sections of printed matter (maps) and paint. The results are stunning. Although I’ve seen Garrett’s work in his studio, being introduced to it only a year ago, the works as displayed together have an impact beyond what I expected. Seeing them together brings underlines their thematic unity while bringing out their technical and formal differences, often reflecting specific geographic locations and the artist’s experience of many of them. Obviously, the viewer immediately draws upon his or her personal associations with places scattered around the globe.
These compelling paintings are also united by uncommon sophistication and authority. In form and content they are both beautiful and deep. Literally based upon fragments of old maps that serve as printed ground and armature, they travel up and down a scale ranging from images in which the underlying maps are almost fully revealed to those which are all but obscured by paint. In a sense, these images run the gamut from perceived painterly abstraction to graphic representation, seeking balance between form and specific content. They are also characterized by extraordinary motion and energy. This is how many are read at first glance, before the component elements of the paintings are recognized. Upon closer examination the stability of the cartography provides a degree of stabilizing counter balance. It is this give and take between order and painted chaos that provides the excitement of Garrett’s recent art. This may point to a pitched battle between nature and humankind’s historic and perverse efforts to tame and control, all ill fated in many ways. And it certainly is tempting to reach for such a grand theme in these painted maps.
This may or may not be Garrett’s underlying artistic theme. I’m inclined to doubt it is. But the title of the exhibition and some of the works on the walls, “Untethered,” suggests an existential view of the world in which our desire to control and shape is finally futile. We are not in charge. Our lives and sense of order are subject to the vagaries of forces that sometime seem malevolent. But whatever the core meaning of these works, they are the most compelling examples of contemporary art I’ve seen in quite some time.
Postscript 4-22-14: The show came down last Sunday after a successful month’s display at Dogpatch Café. A number of works sold and moved into the homes of enthusiastic buyers. For those of you who missed this artistically and intellectually rewarding show, I recommend a visit to Garrett’s website:
Paul J. Karlstrom