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Textual paintings and anonymous caricatures: Two First Friday reviews

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Lois Main Templeton
It’s the Way They Mingle
Gallery 924 through May 30
★★★1/2

It was interesting seeing Nhat Tran’s reaction to Lois Main Templeton’s paintings at Gallery 924 (Tran is an artist who has shown work at Gallery 924 before.) Tran is an artist who spends painstaking hours building up multiple layers of lacquer on 2D and 3D surfaces and sanding each layer off to a highly polished sheen. But what she’s aiming for is something akin to what Lois Main Templeton is seeking: a surprise pattern to unveil itself during the process of composition. It’s fair to say, however, that there’s more painful labor involved in bringing Tran’s abstract compositions to fruition. It’s the freedom Templeton gives herself to create — not being entirely bound to a rigorous process — that brought a smile to Tran’s face.

The expressive nature of Templeton’s paintings, often incorporating text in thick black lines or indecipherable scribbles, paradoxically makes her work easily recognizable. Templeton (born in 1928) has studio space in both Indianapolis and Maine, and her compositions, while often abstract, sometimes reflect the places she’s lived in. One of my favorites in this show is “Only Listen” (oil on canvas), which might be appreciated just for the beauty of the composition: you see a series of wavy parallel lines in orange, white and purple against a luminous blue that seems to sparkle. But then, there’s the poetic caption under the title card that reads, “In Maine the ocean surf rolls up the shingle in slow, repeated waves. Then a larger wave trips, breaks. You can hear it. Only stand and listen.”

Erik Ullanderson
Old Erik Came Wondering or Throw Steel Over their Heads
Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA) through July 23
★★★1/2

erik_ullanderson_portrait.jpg

There’s a lot of wackiness in this exhibition by Erik Ullanderson and curated by the IMA's Scott Stulen. Ullanderson hails from St. Paul, MN. In the main (Efroymson) Gallery you see the artist uses caricatures of himself as his canvases. That is, he commissions caricature artists at various amusement parks to make his portrait with the specific instruction, “Make me a troll.” The portraits are not necessarily flattering — the artist is in his mid-forties and facing issues that most men face in these years — but he has a sense of humor about it. Ullanderson enlarges these caricature sketches, printing them on canvas and then painting over them, referring to various icons of modern art with his brushstrokes. His crosshatching in paint on these various works result in bright colors that often clash with one another; it's fun trying to pick out his various modern art icon influences. “It’s trying to address the fact that I love mark-making, I love traditional painting,” he says. But he also says that he is wary of "the baggage of conceptualism." He also addresses his Scandinavian roots in these paintings, but in wacky ways that equally speak of his American upbringing (going to summer camp, having to learn Norwegian).

Another part of the exhibit, in the middle gallery, shows him painting over various images culled from the Internet; images of live action role players (playing Vikings) and using some of the same techniques that he used in the caricatures. It’s intriguing seeing how Ullanderson makes anonymous images from the Internet — that fount of anonymous imagery. But what’s even more intriguing is seeing him turn cherished family photos, taken during mushrooming exhibitions, painted over, sent to a friend on Instagram, and then printed on canvases. The end results look like the type of art prints on canvas you can get by the butt-load at Target and Ikea. So you might appreciate this show for its conceptual content, but you might also like the self-deprecating imagery and playful, painterly illustration which is okay too.

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