The three artists united in "Layers," a new show up at Gallery Sonja Roesch, don't seem related at all at first -- they live in different countries, work in different mediums and their pieces have vastly different effects on the viewer. The reductive factor that does unite them -- "layers" -- seems irrelevant. That is, until closer inspection.
This idea of layers can seem to refer to one of two things -- technique, such as the layering of paint onto a canvas, or meaning, such as through the use of metaphors or symbolism. In this exhibition, the idea of layers isn't so much a technique or meaning but an effect -- there's an incredible amount of depth and movement to discover in the works, some of which are as thin as a piece of paper.
Swiss artist Julia Steiner steals the show with her seemingly simple works in gouache and paper. Her two pieces, "Shift" and "Fragment (animal space)," are both abstract landscapes in black and white. There's an immediate flatness in the work -- it's just paint on paper -- that makes you wonder why they belong, but there's a richness in these charcoal-like designs. The works are full of movement and activity that are intensely compelling and draw you in.
New York artist Gabriele Evertz's works evoke a similar reaction at first, leaving you wondering how they fit in the theme of the show. Her two -- "Blue and the Spectrum" and "Red and the Spectrum" -- are just row upon row of blinding color. There's a precise method at play -- thick blue then thin red then thin light blue then thick blue -- that's the result of taping, painting, re-taping, painting and so on to get these perfectly straight, architectural lines. It runs the risk of becoming too methodical and impersonal, but when you step back, the works pulsate. There's a dizzying 3-D effect that overwhelms and resonates with you. The two works, one in blue, one in red, also wonderfully complement each other. They can easily stand on their own, and are meant to, but are really something when viewed right next to each other in the space.
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Russian artist Lev Khesin is the most material of the bunch. He works mostly in silicone, alternating between Plexiglas, wood, MDF or mirror-glass as a base. Though he works primarily with one main material, the eight works on display here are highly varied, thanks to the different thickness, viscosity, glossiness and transparency of the silicone, as well as use of color and stroke. They all look like little terrains on some distant planet -- some have a smooth, iridescent quality, others are more textured and rough, all are eerily beautiful.
Khesin may have the most satisfying example of layers at work -- especially in the works that have a thick layer of silicone over the color, creating this effect as if you're looking to the bottom of a pond. But joined by Evertz and Steiner, your conceptions of what that can mean are pleasantly challenged.
"Layers" at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline St., now through April 28. For more information, call 713-659-5424 or visit the gallery's website.