Friday, April 29, 2011

Painting Grace

Michael Brangoccio and Madai Taylor find motivation in grace - not the kind that evolved from Greek mythology to represent elegance and beauty, but the theological-philosophical grace of The Enlightenment that allowed kindness to soften moral and legal codes. Though their symbolism and media are utterly different, these two Iowa painters are kindred in this common enthusiasm.

Over two decades, Brangoccio has created a post-quantum universe of alternate realities and small miracles where fish, bears and elephants fly while birds are grounded. He has however separated himself from surrealists and tromp d-oeil artists who play with similar symbolism by consistently affirming that grace is transcendent even in secular terms. No matter how precarious the situations his subjects confront, hope always trumps despair. In his new exhibition at Olson-Larsen Galleries, Brangoccio’s stressed acrylics suggest forms of grace that are more obvious than anything in his previous shows. “High Rise” employs Biblical atmospherics where seas roil under both stormy and sunny skies. “Two Thoughts” similarly confronts flying elephants with both blue and dark skies. “Shining” suggests something extraterrestrial while “Passing Thought” welcomes blimps somewhere over the rainbow. “Drift” presents an engaging puzzle in which saucers and dishes fly off into a consuming enlightenment. Call it Brangoccio’s light period but do not read anything more into the heavenly luminescence. These paintings are still about conundrums and possibilities.

Fort Dodge painter Madai Taylor also believes that his art is a measure of grace. For this pastor though, grace is more religiously charged right down to his choice of media. Taylor paints with the earth. He gathers red dirt in the South and black loam in Iowa fields, sifts it to fine grains and mixes it with gesso. He applies that paint in layers which he scratches while they are drying, much like the plows of agriculture scratch at the same dirt in its natural environment. He considers his process is a unique form of shorthand - a primitive scripture. For both media and inspiration, Taylor goes to a childhood comfort zone.

“As a child, without shoes on my feet I would jump off the front porch of the dilapidated old house where I lived to play in mud puddles… I can still feel the thick soft earth gushing through my toes,” he recalled.

Taylor says he uses dirt to create a vocabulary that symbolizes his ideals and values. “Dirt intrigues me as a medium because it has unique characteristics, rare tones, gradations and textures that lend themselves to an immense, versatile range of possibilities. It allows me to express infinite space and spiritual universes that exist beyond the visible world in a medium that is timeless, and of the soul,” he explains.

Taylor says his manipulations of paint are intentionally vertical. “The natural material from which I made these images reminds us surely and absolutely that we are part of nature. Their verticality symbolizes the link between God and man. Horizontal compositions represent what comes to humanity out of the earth realm, or that which can be ascertained by the mind. Square composition represents neutrality that believes nothing. I believe my work is about the vertical relationship I have with God.”

Art Touts

Tim Frerichs exhibits a three year study of industrial agriculture transposed with native grasses at Olson-Larsen through April 9. Collages, digital prints, ink and graphite gesso are assembled to study the relative merits of differing uses of land in the prairie... James Ellwanger is working on a spectacular sculpture for downtown that will also provide video connections to people in town centers of Des Moines’ sister cities. Also, Ellwanger’s new eight dimensional Plexiglas exhibition at the Iowa Historical Building considers six landmark civil rights decisions in Iowa history.