In the recent exhibition ‘Travis Collinson: Paintings and Drawings,’ at Eli Ridgway Gallery, artist Travis Collinson investigated the sense of place humanity has within its surroundings, as well as one’s perception of it, through a series of paintings and drawings shown for the first time in San Francisco.
Collinson’s compositions, which are created by the artist from combining photographs and sketches he makes into carefully crafted images that grab the viewed and leave them thinking about what they saw when they have left. Viewing the works does not provide one with a sense of ease. The restrained and muted pallet in the drawings and paintings shown, combined with the psychological expressions on his figures and their placement within the images, all combine to make the viewer question what and where their place is in both the natural world and the man made one that has been planted on top of it.
This sense of unease can easily be seen in the large painting ‘Upsidedown, 2007 – 2010’ (acrylic on canvas.) Here the viewer sees a painting of a teenage boy tangled in the limbs of a tree as if he just dived off of the roof of the house shown next to it. It is from there that his mother looks on from an upper level window, though her expression leaves us to wonder if she will leave the house to assist her son. The father of the boy can be seen on the opposite side of the tree walking away from the house, completely oblivious to what is happening.
At first this painting, while odd in its depiction, is not all that troublesome to the eye. After this initial moment, however, the absurdity that the artist employs begins to come through. The sense of traditional three-dimensional perspective dissolves as the viewer realizes that there is no physically possible way the boy’s limbs could be wrapped around the branches of the tree in real life. Also, the scale of the house is shortened considerably, making it impossible for the figures to stand inside of it. The flattened pictorial space created by the placement of the figure of the father behind the seeming horizon line, the placement of the trunk of the tree, and the layering of leaves across the ground serve to not let the viewer walk into the work, but rather for it hang tenuously as if it were all built on the thin ledge of a balcony. This adds to the overall tension of the work and contributes to the mood conveyed by other elements of the painting.
The choice in style and the restrained pallet also adds a sense of humor to the work. “It’s bubble gum depression,” says Eli Ridgway. These words had proved elusive to the author of this article, though he searched for them while looking at walls. There is another piece that is, itself, a joke to the viewer. ‘Row, 2008-09’ (acrylic on canvas) is one of the two smallest works in the exhibition, but it is truly comical. This seven by eight inch painting depicts a view from a window in a cityscape, with the buildings viewable along the lower edge and the side of the sill on the left. Our angle of view is off kilter according to the tilted horizon in the image. Above all of this is an expanse of white and the rendering of a black fly in sharp contrast and stunning clarity. It is so real looking that the viewer wants to go over and swat it away. At this point the author of this article cloud not stop giggling at himself for attempting the feat.
The combination of the optical tricks employed and the isolation of the figures in their own worlds work together successfully to convey the ideas that Collinson is investigating throughout the various works in the exhibition. This re-evaluation on the place of the self is an important trend in America and globally as the role of America changes in the world and the impacts of human advancement on the natural environment challenge traditional notions of humanities place and importance on this planet.
The exhibition Travis Collinson: Paintings and Drawings closed at Eli Ridgway Gallery on August 20, 2011. The gallery is located at 172 Minna Street, San Francisco, 94105; (415) 777-1366; Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm. Additional images of Travis Collinson’s work can be seen at www.eliridgway.com.