Tones And Textures Meet At Kehler Liddell

Lucy Gellman | September 17th, 2019

Tones And Textures Meet At Kehler Liddell

Kehler Liddell Gallery  |  Arts & Culture  |  Visual Arts  |  Westville


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Brian Flinn’s Permutations and Mark St. Mary’s Static run at Kehler Liddell Gallery through Oct. 13. The gallery is open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment. Lucy Gellman Photos; all artwork pictured by Brian Flinn and Mark St Mary. 

At first glance, the face on Brian Flinn’s “The Parson’s Second Wife” seems like it shouldn’t be a face at all. The head is not a skull so much as a patchwork egg, pearlescent at the forehead with striped, jigsaw-like layers of blue at the cheeks. Numbers run across her nose; lettering springs from her hairline. In the space where her mouth should be, there’s an offset hole and rows of scraggly teeth. A swirl of red appears at whatever is left of the brain stem. And that's just the head. 

And yet it works: she is grotesque and whimsical at once, and it’s enough to want to know more about her.

"The Parson’s Second Wife” sets an intriguing, sometimes existential tone for Permutations, one of two new exhibitions at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. Mark St. Mary’s Static, a collection of photographs exploring color, texture and detail, looks at it from the other side of the gallery. Both exhibitions run through Oct. 13.

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Work by Brian Flinn. 

In some ways, Permutations begins even before one has entered the gallery: Flinn’s digital and mixed media collages glance out from the street; a few make eyes at passers-by. Some beckon with bright color and serpentine, uneven lines, others offer a deep blue-green that channels cyanotype, a mix of patterns that spans fabrics to puzzle pieces. Inside, that kind of controlled chaos continues: pieces cover one side of the gallery, walking a thin line between quirk and something a little more sinister. They turn traditions of portraiture on their head; they make fun of the notion of the sitter. 

In ”Knight Errant 2,” for instance, Flinn turns the title’s ostensible namesake—a valiant character of yore—upside down, and viewers are better for it. This knight is not so impressive or knightly at all: his torso puffs and swells outward like an egg, one comically tiny arm coming out of each side. His shoulders melt into a blob of body. His mouth looks as if it has been coaxed shut, and there aren’t any ears at all. A spray of cut-out shapes surround his mouth. From afar, any semblance of a helmet looks more like a baseball cap. 

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Work by Brian Flinn. 

And from head to toe, nothing can quite agree stylistically. A swipe of peachy-pink comes up against yellow and blue. Collaged layers and piled on brown and orange paint, glistening from the page. It’s a mess, but it feels that that's exactly how it’s supposed to be.

With humor and wit, Flinn also infuses something brain-bending into this work. The artist makes viewers want to turn the world back on its axis, and to slow the clock as they notice references to passing time in newspaper clippings, references to old wars, and multi-dimensional illusions that have been collaged into being. There are deep, sometimes heavy-handed references to Picasso, Duchamp, and Magritte, which mixes a sense of the surreal with the acute knowledge that time is moving too quickly.

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Work by Mark St. Mary.

Across the gallery, Mark St. Mary’s photographs hold an equal pull, tactile even as they flatten out behind glass. Across a series of texture and color studies, he explores how quickly natural elements take on lives beyond themselves—rust, old paint, pavement and leaves all pushed beyond their original contexts.

In “Texture Study # 1803c,” for instance, the artist has photographed a spray of rust at close detail, dots piled up in deep browns and red. Beneath them, a cooler surface reveals itself in cool blue-gray and silver, completely flat against the raised element that is taking over.

But the rust is less like an elemental cancer and more a playful intervention here. Examined from afar, the photographs could be aerial landscapes, tracing the growth of vegetation over rivers. Or maybe they're drone images, inspecting the migration of birds over vast plains and mountains. The rust only reveals itself at close detail.

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Work by Mark St. Mary.

So too in a series of close black-and-white color studies that are photos, but look much more like lithographs with etching and aquatint. In great strength of the show, works are left largely open to interpretation (there are labels beside each, but long and overly explanatory didactics are left off the table), which makes them that much richer.

Permutations and Static are technically two different exhibitions, but their sense of aesthetic cross-talk is so vibrant, and so immediate, that they could just as easily come across as one. In fact, studying the two together delivers a cohesive message: permanence and impermanence, the passage of time on material objects and by extension on human bodies.

We’ll disappear, they seem to tell us—but a lot of the same elements will keep going without us. The exhibition, however, is gone by mid-October.

Brian Flinn’s Permutations and Mark St. Mary’s Static run at Kehler Liddell Gallery, 873 Whalley Ave., through Oct. 13. The gallery is open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.