It is Ahab’s phantom limb, that fully palpable but completely intangible pentimento of loss. It is why we love antiquing, respect our elders, and revere the crackled canvases of the old masters. A storefront, too, can display this intuition; its barren mannequins revealed as scarecrows alone in a darkened but embarrassingly public alcove. It is a territory full of poignant relics, with every direction magnetic. To navigate it we have the three artists in this exhibition, Matt Ohm, Tim Ripley, and Deborah Boardman.
We all have a homeland. For some it is an actual place with longitude and latitude, for others it exists as an amalgam of evocative smells and embroidered recollections. Some we long for, others are the milestones by which we measure our escape. Matthew Ohm, of Long Beach CA, toggles the two locations. With a freehand schematic on a plank of smooth poplar he has shown us in Wilton, Wisconsin, 2005, a vision of a forest clear-cut into glade. The stumps show their rings with the elegant economy of cartoon spirals as they diminish into a distance without horizon, without end. On further inspection we find the plank to be plywood, its fine surface merely a veneer, its image not wood inlay but mere oil paint. This is a concoction of appearances. If one is deceitful can the other be trusted? Is there even such a place as Wilton, Wisconsin? That he would just as soon hack a tree as hug one is demonstrated in Smudge, 2007, another process-oriented work that required him to cut down a bush and from it make charcoal, some of the branches supplying the fuel needed for the transformation, others becoming the end product. With this charcoal he attempts to draw from memory the bush, now consumed, that began the process of primitive, smoky manufacture.
Like the corporations and products they represent, corporate logos have a life span. Introduced, they may fail to thrive and quickly disappear. Others gain some purchase in the public mind and the merchant’s shelves and from there can hope to become indispensable to the consuming public. If successful they might attain a cross-generational iconic equity; Encyclopedia Britannica’s thistle logo has heralded the product’s Scottish origins for nearly 250 years and Procter & Gamble’s moon-and-stars insignia enjoyed 130 years of success before being retired due to preposterous attacks as a symbol of Satanism, but Schlitz beer and its florid script device has gone from market prominence as late as the 1970s to the product ash heap alongside Ironized Yeast Tablets whose weight-gain advertisements warned that, “No skinny man has an ounce of sex appeal.” North Carolina native Tim Ripley understands our consumerist passion and combines two seemingly antithetical aspects of it. On one side there is our low price obsession that has created the Wal-Mart juggernaut, on the other is the luxury goods fetish––monograms and signatures as symbols of status for which we will pay dearly. His Building (a painting) Support 2000 features both postures. Through a veil of manufactured patina we recognize Elmer the Bull (husband of Elsie the Cow, chief spokes-animal for the Borden corporation), trademark of Elmer’s Glue-All, that cheap and ubiquitous adhesive found in every home, office, and classroom. Below and above the Elmer image is the refrigerator-style font spelling out Makita, maker of sumptuously essential power tools. Both are faded images however, in transit toward the way of all worldly goods, soon to be puzzled over like the side of a weathered building featuring the muted illustration of the beer that made Milwaukee famous.
To broadcast was originally a term to describe sowing. Artisan’s signs and heraldic shields are the forebears of Donald Trump’s hair and Apple Computer’s fruit-of-knowledge silhouette, the distilling of a greater entity into a recognizable and disseminable graphic nugget. These images were and are sown widely to generate the greatest return in profit, power, and persona. Dissatisfied with the failure of the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollar coins Chicago artist Deborah Boardman has, in the tradition of eccentrics who crown themselves emperor and fashion their own uniforms, crafted her own currency of indeterminate denomination, hand-painted specie bearing the likenesses of Miami Indians instead of their more familiar 18th century counterparts. Similarly, Blue Emblem, 2003, shown above, is Boardman’s version of a regal cartouche wiped clean, an open gateway to possess and participate in a code of chivalry (self-authored), the notion of a champion (we all should have one), a wealth of heirlooms (our misplaced inheritance), and title to a romantic, if fictive, past.