Michael Benevento is pleased to announce The Splendour of Fear, a group show with Stan Brakhage, Saul Fletcher, Sergej Jensen, Sigmar Polke, JD Williams and Cerith Wyn Evans. The title, The Splendour of Fear, is borrowed from Brit band Felt’s murky, hypnotic, and atmospheric album Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty/The Splendour of Fear (released 1986, Cherry Red Records). The exhibition brings together six artists working in photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, and film that each address, evokes, or has a preoccupation with intimacy to a point of discomfort, beauty within decay, and melancholy through a vocabulary of images, objects, use of repetition, medium treatments, and overall affect. Centering around beauty, sadness, and obsession, this exhibition engages artworks that either overtly or delicately invoke these ideas and sensations. Whether it is Stan Brakhage’s process-heavy films that address mortality through both the semi-autobiographical subject matter as well as his physical actions placed onto the actual film itself, or Saul Fletcher’s unsettling and ghostly sparse black and white photographs, The Splendor of Fear provides a charged psychological space.
Cerith Wyn Williams’ (b.1958) flickering red rose fossilized in neon and installed prominently in the window of the gallery storefront, Untitled (Red Rose), 2007, manages to escape conventional definitions generally bestowed upon such an iconic image. Instead he uses the associations with a red rose to create a language, which draws on a mythical, historical, and literary lexicon of meanings. Passion, love, and romance are all obvious insinuations; however the burning red of the neon is inescapable and reveals the juxtaposing meanings such as anger, hell, danger, emergency, rage, shame, and even Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The sculpture itself appears like an advertisement and is visually comprised of several neon parts, which individually suggest different objects – a pear, vessel, and bodily organ. Untitled (Red Rose) is both beautiful and suspicious. This same tension can be found in the photographs of Sigmar Polke (b.1941). In his black and white series of photographs, Bamboo Pole Loves Folding Ruler Star, Polke provides a different kind of visual glossary. The photographs range from the absurd to the unsettling. There is a theatrical element within these images – a temporality or suspended waiting. For the most part the photographs contain household objects whose juxtaposition leaves one with the sense of oscillating between a child’s having abandoned them after turning them into playthings, and something more inauspicious in nature. In one particular photograph a stool stands at an exaggerated height atop a frayed, round rug within a domestic setting. This captured moment is incredibly anxious, as the viewer becomes wrought with anticipation for what will happen or what just occurred at this site. In all of these images, the detritus of an event provides evidence, while Polke breathes new life into these re-assembled objects.
JD Williams’ (b.1964) nine works on paper incorporate drawing and collaged images, specifically that of a brain, which appears to be rotating within each drawing; and that of an abstract motif, which has a figurative resemblance to black mouse ears – an image the artist appropriated from the corner of a drawing he came across by the French theorist and playwright Antonin Artaud. These cerebral drawings have the quality of photographic negatives or film stills – again, an element of measured time or sequencing, which generate expectancy. The images and shapes in each of these works on paper all seem to be in some kind of confrontation with one another. This kind of staged encounter functions in a formal and figurative sense, instituting an aesthetic and psychological semblance. Williams’ disturbing drawings present almost hostile situations that address a language of torture within a study in power dynamics. Stan Brakhage also institutes this duality in materiality and production – often working directly on shot film he manipulates, distresses, and seduces the material into producing beautiful, crumbling, and crude images and effects. Both Mothlight, 1963, and I…Dreaming, 1988, meditate on and depict themes of life, lament, apprehension, sacrifice, and departure. Unlike Williams’ menacing drawings, these films are melancholic and sentimental. Mothlight, which has a painterly feel, literally reanimates the dead. Brakhage has pasted the broken wings and appendages of dead moths, whose fatal attraction to light rendered them immolated. By affixing them onto the film, Brakhage offers the fire-captivated insects a second life. They appear translucent and delicate, distressed veins in rapid movement, cut-up and fluttering like a flock of birds. The quick movement and re-assembling of limbs is at once mesmerizing and visceral. In Brakhage’s later film I…Dreaming, the filmmaker is the subject. With musical and textual accompaniment by Stephen Foster and Joel Haertling, the film oscillates dreamily between shots of Brakhage, bearded and aged, and his two vivacious grandchildren in and outside of his home. The use of song lyrics, scratched into the film, quite literally address the projected images; “lack,” “void,” “loss,” “waiting,” and “heading towards the light,” follow and interrupt vulnerable shots of Brakage lying in bed, picking at his toenails, and seated staring off. The audio component provides soft and poignant accompaniment to a semi-narrative reflection of the artist’s life assessment. Often the camera will move towards shadows and light falling through skylights and windows – an easy metaphor of life and death.
Danish born and Berlin-based painter Sergej Jensen (b.1973) uses techniques of pouring, spilling, puncturing, bleaching, and staining a variety of materials such as burlap, linen, silk, and wool, creating somber and ghostly compositions. Resembling ambergris, the valuable and scented substance found within the stomach of whales, the stains and mark making of Untitled, 2008, travel upward – transcending beyond the polluted into the ethereal. As if rising from the sea, something beautiful and transitory is attempting to emerge. The process of recasting that ambergris has come to hold, relates with both a visual and spiritual intensity within this painting and is punctuated with a perfect, round hole in the fabric. Saul Fletcher’s (b.1967) small photographs reflect each contributing element found in The Splendour of Fear. At once disturbing and exquisite, they suggest vague narratives, capture apparitions, stage ritual, and reveal obsession. These small, almost precious, compositions create an optical ambiguity and sense of real presence, though none have any evidence of human subjects. They are powerful in their ability to transport the viewer into familiar and odd moments, memories, and spaces both physical and psychological. There is a vague sense of the artist’s identity through the use of various embedded objects – antique vases, quirky mirrors, a milagro-covered cross, and a weighted, sagging knit blanket pierced with poppies, each contribute evidence to a life lived, a space inhabited, a palpable restlessness or unease, a fleeting emotion, and the potential of beauty.