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The Drama of Discontinuous Space

by Michael Helsem

point of continuation from DARts cover

Christopher Schade - Spinning Island

Christopher Schade - Spinning Island, 2004
oil on canvas - 72 x 72 inches
courtesy Conduit Gallery

"The anguish of the work is the discovery of the correspondences."

— Robert Kelly


It's like a Philip K Dick story. An event changes reality forever. But then the Counter-Revolution comes, and not only rubs out all record of that crucial event, it even swaps a bogus reality, so that no one will ever know things have altered.

Certain critics, not always tendentiously, want to declare Modernism a phase or fad that has run its course or worse, a mistake that has lately been rectified. — This is made easier by the unfortunate fact that a lot of mindless imitative Modernistic art followed almost at once (and continues to the present day).

Consider, though, the role of insight. As Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, tells us, an existing paradigm only truly yields to a more comprehensive integration. What was going on in the first Cubist paintings, and why does it matter now?

Half a dozen dogged centuries had gone into tweaking the illusion of depth — always as vehicle, never as the spectacle itself (oh well, maybe in the Luminists). It became a place to put things in. A place, of course, that does not exist. The insight: there are others.

Thus was born the Drama of Discontinuous Space. (Not "incoherent'' — that's too easy.) From humor to vertigo to metaphysical anguish, a whole new realm of nonliteral depiction had been opened.

And it fit. It fit that cracked cusp, when the civilization that was to vanish so utterly (all its fine meanings, its drives, and its dreams), was hearing an unmistakeable death-knell... Like The Waste Land, like Le Sacre du Printemps, it should have been the birth of a new art.

It wasn't.


So painting took another road instead — one that has not been unfruitful of wonders, true; but lacking (for the most part) the insight that makes art vital to its moment. Romanticism-redux, in a thousand disguises: in a word, the road of Content (even as it portrayed itself as Form for Form's Sake). Only a few remembered, and they were not understood to be part of something: Francis Bacon, the drawings of de Kooning, on through Bridget Riley and Matthew Ritchie.

And like atonality, its insight lost out in the scramble tide... Two places in town right now showcase echoes of that original insight. Christopher Schade at Conduit Gallery has paintings that, while artlessly constructed, in his best images ("Spinning Island," "Colossus Island") conjure manifold otherworldly dimensions. And at Pan-American, Rusty Scruby's major new work "Kwajalein" (named for one of the Marshall Islands now dedicated to American weapons testing) takes that multiplicity and makes it sing.

Rusty Scruby - Kwajalein

Rusty Scruby - Kwajalein, 2006
mixed media reconstruction
117 x 175 inches


Schade's paintings are all about "Islands," of sorts. He fills in an overall irregular design with a complex tesselation of various patterns and textures, some landscape-like, most not; and tilts the
perspective and light source from one part of the picture to another.

This is tamer than the psychedelic art of the Sixties, but the effect all the same can be mesmerizing. The strongest paintings are those in which he also modulates the color scheme in contrast with the other spatial indicators. This brings an emotional edge to the collage effect; when all the tonalities are similar, the scramble seems moot.

In Scruby's new show, many of the works strike an obscure equilibrium between his patented paperstrip-weaving technique, and conventional drawing or photography ("Clouds — Boundary Layer"). But it's the big piece that grabs your attention, both for its grandiose intricacy and for the pulsing waves of its optical intensity. Half of the image is clearly based on a photograph of a girl, while the other half spins off into pure seething abstraction. With only the two shades of light and dark, and a remorseless rectlinear grid, it yet achieves weirdly lyrical passages that change shape before your eyes, as one way of reading the progressive iterations yields spontaneously to another.

You can sense the math beneath it all. And it's organic, too. At last it transcends perception altogether, conveying whispers of the unseen order that has shattered this image, and remade it.

9 21/22



Definitions & explanations, for further study

tendentiously - marked by a strong implicit point of view; partisan

Thomas S. Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions - ISBN:0226458083

the Luminists - an American landscape painting style of the 1850s – 1870s, characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through the use of aerial perspective, and the hiding of visible brushstrokes. Luminist landscapes emphasize tranquility, and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky.

The Waste Land - "a highly influential 433-line modernist poem by T. S. Eliot"

Le Sacre du Printemps - "a ballet with music by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky"

Francis Bacon - an Anglo-Irish figurative painter [whose] artwork was well-known for its bold, austere, and often grotesque or nightmarish imagery.

Willem de Kooning - abstract expressionist painter, born in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Matthew Ritchie - no listing

Bridget Riley - an English painter, one of the foremost proponents of op art, art exploiting the fallibility of the human eye.

atonality - describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies

Kwajalein - "part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands ... in the Ralik Chain 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii ... one of the world's larges coral atols ... surrounding one of the larges lagoons in the world ... leased by the United States ... part of the Ronlad Reagan Ballistic Missle Defense Test Site, formerly known as Kwajalein Missle Range"

psychedelic - a neologism coined from the Greek words for "mind," (psyche), and "manifest," (delos).


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