The faculty exhibit Threshold: Dana Roes opened last night at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery with a reception from 6-8 p.m. that included a Gallery Talk by the artist starting at 7 p.m. The latter provided a captivating glimpse into Roes' process as an abstract artist.
It is impossible to describe Roes's art with a single adjective. It is innovative, fresh, urgent, difficult, radical and disquieting all at the same time. For viewers who enjoy wresting meaning from modern artworks, Threshold is a contemporary art exhibition they are certain to enjoy.
Threshold is a collection of monochromatic pictures that appear minimal but are replete with Abstract Expressionist ambiguity and resonance. The latter inheres in Roes subtractive process, which involves creating a rich and expressive underpainting from which she erases marks and lines to achieve her final image. "Erasure is an intuitive act," Roes divulged during Friday night's Gallery Talk, "which deals mainly with the composition, although feeling does enter into it somewhat."
In that regard, Roes walked the audience through a series of slides which depicted how her work has been influenced over the years by the various geographical locations in which she's lived or visited. Maine, Georgia, New York City, an artist's commune in Iceland "in which I was the only artist," the Eastern Block countries of the former Soviet Union and Philadelphia all preceded her residency here in Fort Myers. But the evocative side of Theshold reflects so much more. "I moved, divorced, lost a parent and started a new job all in four months," Roes said last night, her voice masking the turbulence of her inner life in the days leading up to the start of work on the series.
Scale is a huge component of Roes' work. "I like creating an environment that I can step into, that's larger than I am," Roes told the audience. "I've gutted a few houses, and enjoy the fantasy of what the space can be." She replicates the experience in her painting as she fabricates the stretchers and canvases that will support her overwhelming work.
And because they so visually dominating, the paintings that comprise Threshold force viewers to immerse themselves in visual experience by examining from various distances the subtle ways the marks and the image work together.
"This sense of moving back and forth from the depth to the surface with the rhythm of breathing is evoked in several pieces," notes friend, colleague and EDC art history professor Wendy Chase. "In TH2 [left], we are captured by the beauty of moonlit clouds, or possibly a nebula. But this romantic image is interrupted by a grid of small circles of negative space, evenly dispersed from top to bottom, side to side, throughout this thirteen-foot painting ... They move us in two directions simultaneously; they can be seen as portals to another dimension waiting for us behind the nebulous clouds or they can usher us back to this world by referencing the act of their creation."
The concept of breathing is squarely embraced in the startling painting of her mother's last breath (TH1). While obviously cathartic in scope and execution, Roes told the audience that the painting flowed from her obsession with holes and voids. Wendy Chase observes that "[t]the power of the painting ... resides in the fact that you can't be sure if [Roes' mother] is disappearing into the void or rapidly reconstituting herself from it."
Perhaps Roes is seeking equilibrium not only in this painting, but each of the works contained in Threshold. But the balance she's after doesn't come from the final image. Rather, it inheres in the process, in the making. Roes does not work from a predetermined script. In the tradition of painters like Brice Marden, she finds the painting in the making.
"It's a conversation between me and the painting," Roes acknolwedges, "and sometimes I don't like what the canvas has to say. But when the painting stops talking to me, I know it's finished." And by that, she means it's ready to engage viewers in a conversation of their own.
Dana Roes came to Edison State in 2009 after teaching at Savannah College of Art and Design and Carnegie-Mellon and has been developing Edison State's much-heralded studio arts program, which is "not about teaching students how to make anything," notes Gallery Director Ron Bishop, "but about learning how to think."
Threshold will be on view in the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery through February 16.
The Bob Rauschenberg Gallery is located on the Lee campus of Edison State College. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Closed Sundays and holidays.) For additional information, please telephone 239-489-9313 or visit www.RauschenbergGallery.com.