Strange Fit at Pierogi
I don’t know how or why Ken Weathersby got to the point in his life and career where he’s making the work that he makes, and for the record, I don’t particularly care; I’m just really happy to be able to stare at it and be equal parts confused and transfixed. Strange Fit at Pierogi is the second full exhibition of Weathersby’s that I’ve seen, the other having been his 2010 Pierogi exhibition Perfect Mismatch. Seeing these, plus coming across the few other pieces here and there, is how I’ve gotten to experience this work. The particular tropes in place that I find fascinating are the overabundance of structure and support creating a tension between finished surface and a rigid yet organic outgrowth of materiality, all used in a format which reinforces what the other is doing. Then there are interventions, both overt and subtle, through which Weathersby has managed to create an interesting and diverse body of work that tackles notions of the seen and unseen, construction, presentation, recto and verso, along with a slight nod -intentional or otherwise- to crafts such as model making.
Granted, to suggest something as “organic” for works that are so clearly based in geometry, materiality, and systemization may on the surface appear dubious. The way in which Weathersby’s paintings appear to develop, while paying respect to the structures of Sol LeWitt, the reversed canvasses of Johns, and architectural models among other things, share just as much with crystallization or even balloon-frame construction methods gone awry; which, in their own right, are forms of naturally organized growth. In addition to generating an interesting discussion about the relationship of the structure and surface, Weathersby subverts and mirrors events within his pieces to thoroughly dissect the object of painting. Overmining the recursive lattice used to buttress the “image area” through a selective vocabulary of wood, linen, and acrylic paint, Weathersby takes order and precision to a whole other level. At their most basic, Weathersby’s artwork is predominantly either a black and white gridded pattern, or a series of red/yellow/blue gridded patterns rendered tightly on the surface, which are then meant to be cannibalized, cut into, reversed, amputated or re-attached as he sees fit. Often the re-attachments can employ this wooden grid-structure which then becomes a very prominent fixture in support of its blasphemy. These structures therefore become an autonomous element within the works, revealing themselves as more than just support but as appendage, growth, goiter, bandage, armor, housing, prosthesis, scaffold, or prison.
Through these tools Weathersby goes well beyond simply inverting the role of surface and support, to create more than mere visual tension. I’d go so far as to say some of these pieces are even engaged in a no-holds-barred BDSM relationship where the lattice-work of wooden framing structure employed on the reverse, grows out and around to thoroughly encapsulate the traditional painting surface within its dominant embrace as in 191 (csk). These elements are then frozen in a moment of ecstatic coupling for the creepy voyeur in all of us. But rather than shaming us into turning our gaze elsewhere, we are compelled to keep looking, waiting to see if one or the other element will utter the “safe word”. We are dumbstruck and in awe that these works have managed to allow us in to witness their depravity, while rapt with attention to see which part might finally succumb. All the while questioning the nature of its relationship with itself, and our relationship to it.
We stare, trying to dissect the actions of these materials, trying to discern a function that these forms may be following. Wanting to unravel the idiosyncrasies of Weathersby’s exploration, I’ve tried to take in the whole of the exhibition, which, in addition to the strange outgrowths of structure, we come across extractions, and vignettes. These works reveal much about the history and traditions of painting in a way few artists are able to pull off. These pieces are so intrinsically Weathersby’s, and at the same time explore the legacy of materiality and presentation within the painting idiom. Through peculiar miniature dioramas, to interventions of near surgical precision, and structural inversions, we are confronted with not only the object of painting, but the object of viewing paintings. The action of observation becomes a puzzle we need to piece together, just as the independent components of the works are fitted together. Tightly dovetailed elements and ideas are crafted together with such attention to detail in order to create something akin to the Frankenstein Monster of paintings. A glorious aberration of what we have come to expect from painting. Now electrified and thoroughly educated, the creature wears a sport-coat in an attempt to fit into our socially acceptable notions of what paintings should be. I just pray the simple-minded villagers don’t repeat the same mistake with these paintings as they did with Frankenstein’s Monster, but then again, they’re the ones who are stuck being merely human.