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Loving Care

Matthew Sontheimer and Tina Marrin welcome viewers to their obsessions

All of the images Marrin uses here are appropriated, stolen from magazines and Xeroxed (the rug images were color-copied in "mosaic" mode, thus providing the grid pattern used to create the rugs). But like Sontheimer's, Marrin's method of reproduction is distinctly non-mechanical, the product of prolonged attention rather than a quick flash of light.

Writing about the Van Gogh paintings whose authenticity has recently been questioned, the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik noted a turn from the "meta-ironic" to the "post-ironic, the realm where appropriation re-emerges as sincerity." He suggests that the Van Gogh Sunflowers was, if faked, most likely faked by a great admirer of the artist, and as such is a tribute rather than a cynical (in this case mercenary) endeavor. Gopnik's observations could easily apply to Marrin, especially vis-à-vis the ironic appropriation of images by many women artists over the last decade. Artists such as Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine recycled images as a way of pointing out how women are treated by the media and the art world. In the '80s, appropriation was not a polite thing one did to something one liked. Rather, it was a quick hit, a way to recontextualize kitsch or sexism or both. And in terms of time, recontextualization was economical, particularly when photography was used.

But when Marrin appropriates images, even images of pinup girls, her investment is very, very high. Take Tammy Sparks Xerox-Drawing and John Kacere Xerox-Drawing: Both images -- adult model Tammy Sparks clad in a French-cut swimsuit and a smooth, slick portrait of a woman's bikini region by photo-realist John Kacere -- are in the spirit of streamlined Nagel fetish-prints. Either work might be seen by high culture mavens as, if not derogatory, at the very least unsophisticated. Yet Marrin renders every colored pencil stroke lovingly, in tribute to the fantasy they evoke. And what's incredible about these drawings is not the exactitude of the replication of the image, but the exactitude of the replication of the photocopy of the image. Every bit of electromagnetic dust and dry toner is faithfully reproduced. It's as if one painted a perfectly smooth, glossy image on photographic paper to make it look like a photo. If you saw Marrin's drawing in a trash can at Kinko's, you would surely mistake it for a grainy photocopy.

Like Sontheimer with his Study for N.O. Map, Marrin has included the patterns she used for her reproductions. In the case of the latch-hook patterns, she pricked each tiny square as she hooked its corresponding yarn, to mark her place. She's also included her Spraypaint Patterns, in which she pricked every flick of spray paint sprayed on a piece of paper, and an early, actual-size chandelier pattern -- an intricate pencil drawing on graph paper with paint-by-number squiggles, each scrawled with the name of the color to be used there. These patterns are inside-out works of art -- not all individually successful, but cumulatively powerful. Unlike Sontheimer's Color Study, they do more than testify to the lengthy, uncomplaining process of the artist. Instead, they literally deconstruct what the media constructs. With tiny stabs of her pin, Marrin translates the broad obsessions of the public into the dangerous obsession of an individual; her consuming affection takes apart and then rebuilds.

In that sense, her work is like a classic unrequited love: a quest for the unattainable (here represented by the slick, mass-produced image). In the throes of this affair, a supermodel who has been photographed thousands of times becomes a series of infinitesimal, carefully knotted dots, and then rematerializes as yet another kind of object of desire. Something saves this new Nadja from the bramble-filled castle of irony ... dedication, perhaps? In this day and age, Marrin and Sontheimer's monkish labors perplex. Their motives, in the end, are as impenetrable as obsession -- a lovely mystery in the presence of which cynicism dissolves.

Works by Matthew Sontheimer and Tina Marrin will be on view through September 6 at Sally Sprout Gallery, 223 Westheimer, 526-6461.

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