“In Little Place a Million” was the title of this first one-person show by Chris Fennell, who works at the more informed fringes of the do-it-yourself esthetic. Using mostly paper on paper in these mixed-medium collages, Fennell arranges tiny paper-punch circles (a raw material often used by Howardena Pindell) in superimposed, slightly off-register radiating patterns. Looking like a proof of a mathematical theory that has gone awry, the charting of sound waves or a hypnotic Tantric device, several of the pieces are formally reminiscent of Fred Tomaselli’s combines made of pills, or Philip Taaffe’s fine paintings with chine-collé.
Cataract (2009), the largest work in the show at 94 by 60 inches, was made with acrylic, metallic glaze and collage on paper mounted on canvas. Using a close-value range in light blue-green, gray and white, Fennell layered strings of dots in systems that form a central waterfall-like movement from top to bottom, with subsidiary strands spouting to either side. White dots overlap blue, creating little coronas and dizzying afterimages. The space can be read as shallow, and a thin acrylic wash under all the collage elements contributes to a vague quality of Chinese landscape. There is a similarly close-value color range, this time of yellow, white and green with the addition of bits of red and black, in Cicada (2008, 30 by 22 inches), a work in acrylic emulsion, powdered pigment and paper collage. Fennell again deploys systems of mala bead-like strands of overlapping dots. Pairs of concentric circles at the top and bottom gradually give way to swags of beaded rows strung from edge to edge. The overlap of the two systems creates a space that seems to reverberate, as if with the buzz of insects (hence the title).
Boom Times (2009, 30 by 22 inches) operates like a classic Gottlieb painting, with basic forms above and below structuring the painting. These are scallop-edged concentric ovals rendered in red, yellow, black and white dots, which become rather lotuslike at their centers, calling to mind Indian religious art and theories of sound vibration as the source of creation. Although one felt a degree of disconnection between the overly labor-intensive execution of the works and the nature and scope of the ideas, there were many interesting ideas at play and some beautiful passages in this admirable first show.
Photo: Chris Fennell: Cicada, 2008, acrylic emulsion, powdered pigment and collage on paper, 30 by 22 inches; at Newman Popiashvili.