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White out 

An airy optimism imbues Pore at Mattress Factory

Breathe in, breathe out. Contract, expand. Emptiness, fullness. Light, more light. These are just a few of the sensorial impressions experienced in an encounter with Pore, an atmospheric exhibition of new work by Atlanta artist Alex White in the Mattress Factory's White Space this month. Working with acrylic and house paint in shades of white slightly tinged with ochre, gray, blue and green, the artist transports Plexiglas, wood and paper into unexpected sculptural and architectural dimensions. Pore reminds us of how we move through space and reflects on the difference between illusion and reality.

White's quiet aesthetic is intentionally transparent, like breathing. In this project, he intends for spatial and surface relationships to create a sacred space within a space. He strives to communicate his belief that beauty, humanity and the environment are inseparable parts of a whole. "It is important to me that the viewer is a participant rather than an observer. By becoming conscious and present in their surroundings, there is a sense of connection rather than the illusion of separateness," he says.

Pore beautifully achieves that vision. In daylight, elements of the show all but disappear in the 48-by-60-foot white room with painted brick walls. Patterns in the cracked wire glass of the vaulted, skylit roof mirror the modular paintings beneath. Wood and Plexi panels are suspended from the 25-foot ceiling on steel tension cables in flat vertical grids and open cube configurations. At night, dramatic light projected through the Plexi squares reveals the rapport between their painted surfaces while casting lacey shadows on the cement floor below. The display mirrors the notion of expansion and contraction caught up in the paintings.

White's meditative technique connects process with outcome. He paints horizontally in one continuous movement from one edge of the painting to the other. He pours, drizzles and drips the media in a pattern, then applies rapid bursts of heat to create smooth skin, shiny shells, wrinkled pools, cave-ins and cellular networks. When painting on wood and Plexi, he works both sides, reversing the negative and positive space in the two compositions.

A pattern of white dots on one plane becomes vascular channels on the reverse. The dots recall condensation, raindrops, beads of sweat. On the opposite side, the paint pools, then separates, forming a textured surface that resembles microscopic views of plant cells or drawings of liquid molecules. Here, the paint suggests skin, there, it hints at image and after image. Convex and concave patterns repeated on horizontal and vertical planes generate a sense of infinity.

Though the artist has previously mounted environmental projects in domestic spaces, a grant through the Bureau of Cultural Affairs made possible this, his first public project. Together with local art facilitator Susan Bridges, White has effectively reinvented one of the raw warehouse spaces next door to Eyedrum. A simple muslin curtain crops the vast space almost in half. The artist's white-on-white palette, combined with the layered opaque and transparent planes dividing the lofty white room, give the viewer/participant the sense of floating just above the floor.

This airy installation is the inverse of the late Mark Rothko's oppressive black-on-black chapel in Houston. Pore is suffused with light, imbued with our young painter's personal optimism. White makes a positive argument for rediscovering the sublime: "Art as environment can restore and remind us of who we really are and where we stand in relation to our universe."

Pore continues through June 23 at The White Space, Mattress Factory, 300 Martin Luther King Drive. Fri.-Sun. 2-8 p.m. or by appointment. Artist's talk Sunday, June 23, at 8 p.m. 404-688-1892.

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