In the arcane world of archeological research into ancient science, no discovery hasâ?¯been more jaw-dropping than theâ?¯so-called Antikythera device, a highly complex apparatus with multiple dials and gears discovered more than a century ago at the bottom of the Aegean. Long a mystery, it is now believed to be a mechanical “computer” dating from ca. 150 B.C., but its enigmatic aura remains, and the mechanism comes to mind in the presence of similarly strange multipart ceramic and bronze sculptures by Kellogg Johnson, who was included in a recent three-person show with painters Carol Mothner and John Fincher.
Johnson has long engaged with the forms of iconic vessels from antiquity, especially the ubiquitous clay vessel called the amphora. Unlike his works of a few years ago, which were remarkable for their highly worked surfaces, at once lustrous and coruscated, Johnson’s newest investigations intoâ?¯combinations of raku and bronze or steel (all 2008 or ’09) have a suavity that almost compels the viewer to stroke their surfaces. The ceramic now is smooth and pallid; all the sculpturesâ?¯have a fine craquelure, achieved through multiple firings, and luminous tonalitiesâ?¯evocative of bone, ivory or parchment.
A new presence amid Johnson’s very delimited vocabulary of distinctly primary shapes is the column. The splendid orbs of recent years—some as much as three feet in diameter—here reappear in an arresting configuration of seven equal-sizedâ?¯spheres stacked in the towering totem Standing Strand II, 13 feet high. Mounting these spheres in an “endless column” evidences this sculptor’s admiration for Brancusi, who, along with Noguchi, would appear to be a guiding influence.
The hyperrealist painter Carol Mothner surprises in this show with nine monotypes, ranging from 6 to 9 inches on a side, featuring ghostly, fugitive depictions of swingy women’s dresses fashioned from chain mail (the series is titled “Armored Dress”). “When Hillary Clintonâ?¯was a candidate for the presidency and was so brutally abused . . .
I learned how to make chain mail,” says Mothner in a press release about this suite of images of paradoxically balletic female battle-dress. These are all the more appealing because the artist has used real metal mesh in their creation, so that the images are lightly embossed, not simply printed. In addition, tiny glinting links of mesh embed the surfaces.
The senior artist in this group show, John Fincher, has a long and admirable careerâ?¯as a realist painter of imagery typically associated with the American Southwest butâ?¯often rendered with a decided edge. (Famously, he has painted close-ups of cacti menacinglyâ?¯bristling with needles, like hypodermics.) His contribution here was a series ofâ?¯tree branches silhouetted against lowering skies. Quaking aspen or piñon, elementalâ?¯to Santa Fe’s unique “high desert, lower Alpine” allure, are presented with a sophisticated facture that surely represents an homage to the similar technique of Cézanne.