Friday, January 9, 2015

Brian Porray's Big Picture at the Pizzuti Collection

It's too dazzling—too mind-bending—for even this writer to begin by wondering what it's all about. Brian Porray's painting, "|===FL4M3JOB===/", is on display until February on the first floor of the Pizzuti Collection's Now-ism show in Columbus. When I visit, it's the only work in the building. Who needs more? It's a mesmerizing world in itself. Measuring 96" x 216" (that's 8 x 18 feet), it's Porray's madcap world in two-an-a-half dimensions. Both nosed right up to it or standing across the room, the viewer is sucked right into its brilliant, revved up, op-art vortices. If it's a planet rotating on its own wonky axis, then we are zooming asteroids, drawn on collision course by its inexorable gravity field. 
Brian Porray, "|===FL4M3JOB===/", 2011. Synthetic polymer, spray paint, paper on canvas. 96 x 216."
The central section unfurls in a folding curve like an Oriental fan. It pulses with excitement like the gaudy, lit-up neon night on a crowded Tokyo street. Since we are stuck in the gallery with movement available in only one plane, the painting does the three-dimensional moving for us. Our heads swivel up and down; we look far into the distance; we may be looking into the cosmos via mysterious satellite signals. We are, at the least, the out-of-town gawkers dazzled by the colors, the brilliance, the heights. Those fanned, mashed-together columnar forms feel like skyscrapers crammed together, each refusing to be in the shadow of any other.
Brian Porray, detail, "|===FL4M3JOB===/", 2011.

Brian Porray, detail, "|===FL4M3JOB===/", 2011.
From across the room, this painting is an ebullient composition that mixes brilliant color with black and white. Close up, one sees that the black and white background  is created by what I take to be sticky-backed shelf paper with an endlessly repeated design. Grids of alternating white and black squares melt at the edges into framed spheres. This optical illusion underlies the fascination with geometrical forms—strict or skewed—that guide the eye through every neighborhood of the painting and across the whole. 

Brian Porray, detail, "|===FL4M3JOB===/", 2011.
Porray revels in geometrical games like this, testing our intuitive comprehension of perspective with silly signals and crafty cues that block it. He swings between meticulously presented geometrical forms and big, sloppy brush strokes applied devil-may-care that deny any concern with order.

Brian Porray, detail, "|===FL4M3JOB===/",
Those detailed geometrical shapes, like the concentric circles framed by the square, and the sparkling disco sphere, in details above, are collaged paper additions to the painting. The many collaged bits sit right on the surface, unprotected by layers of varnish. They could be in a scrapbook: You see their edges and detect their matte surfaces clearly. As you go back and forth, investigating this great painting, you find all sorts of amusing collage elements that either reinforce the spatial weirdness (like the disco ball) or delight like a joke—note the tiny microphone and shades nestled away in a red hat on the left. These details balance the effect of the work's sheer size. It's a feat in itself that Porray creates and maintains such levity and such joy in a canvas of extraordinary size. Size tends to read as seriousness. He got over this assumption in a big way.

Brian Porray, detail, "|===FL4M3JOB===/",
Another of Porray's surprising achievements is that "|===FL4M3JOB===/", for all its dynamism and futuristic feel, is very much a hand-made object. I find it thrilling that a work so hard and bright in appearance shows the artist's light touch. The fact that the collage elements are bare; that the spray painted swipes feel so delirious, and that the almost imperceptible layering is so cunning bespeak Porray's courage and craftsman.  

As one illustration of Porray's pains-taking, notice the paint drips all across the painting. In the photo to the right and in several above paint drips are visible. In the full view, it's clear that Porray uses drips a lot. On inspection, though, it's rarely clear where the drips actually begin, for their sources are usually disguised by new layers of collage. The reader may have to look very closely to find these, but red drips are apparent in the gray column toward the right, in the triangle-based column to its left, and about half-way up the column with diagonal stripes.

This is a mind-boggling work. How can an artist make a work that is so large, make it so electric, so vibrant, yet manage to do it over the immense amount of time it would take to make it? To create the effect of explosion, of a "flame job," over the period of months or years—to keep that energy alive—takes truly herculean effort involving as much frustration as sense of victory.

The more closely one observes the details of such a piece, the more respect one has for the patient craftsmanship and for the vast conceptual ability of the artist. The balance between his initial idea, serendipity, and improvisation is supremely difficult to maintain. Doubt and fatigue can undermine judgment over the long term.

We often forget, as viewers, to imagine this big picture, and to get lost criticizing details. When a work of art is as spectacularly successful on every level as something of this proportion, the achievement isn't the painting, but the gift transmitted through it of the artist's deep attention, deep thought, and extraordinary commitment to work. 

Thank you, Brian Porray.

1 comment:

  1. And thank you Starr-Review for drawing attention to these fresh explosions.