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Pretty is as pretty does

Scott Ingram turns girly medium into color studies

Artists tend to work with a techie stable of hues boasting names like Cadmium Barium Orange, Alizarin Crimson Golden, Dioxazine Purple and Magnesium Green. Scott Ingram's paints have names like Fast Girl, Love Addiction, Exploded XTC, Cosmic Shore and Midtown Haze.

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He buys them in bulk from Buford Highway wholesalers who often stock as many as 500 hues.

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Ingram's work references a modernist tradition of color field painters like Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt and Ellsworth Kelly (who Ingram credits with inspiring him) working in controlled, minimalist abstraction and hard-edged colors.

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But unlike those painters, who were so much about the painting-as-object, Ingram's work draws attention to the medium.

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They are done in nail polish.

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They present an amusing paradox of a male artist working within a male-identified color field tradition in what Ingram calls "a predominately female material."

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They are pretty.

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Artists have used all kinds of unexpected materials in their work: breast milk, chocolate, vaseline, hair dye, blood. But nail polish proves an inspired choice: ubiquitous, but overlooked as a source for art.

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Ingram's nail polish, like the automotive paint that fixated former Atlanta sculptor David Isenhour, also happens to say something about the predominance of garishly tinted, toxic solutions in our daily life. Anyone who's had a whiff of the stuff could tell you that nail polish is by definition a synthetic creation. It therefore lends itself to the current look of paintings that aim to mimic the high artifice and omnipresence of the manufactured and fake in our lives.

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The color families in Ingram's various works range from the shades found in a 1950s mohair cardigan to the flagrantly pumped-up colors of Matchbox cars. While color choice is one of the tools artists can use to create meaning and emotion, Ingram's color palette is limited. The marketplace — and the quirks of teen fashion — dictate his prefabricated hues.

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Science, gender, and the serendipitous pathways of colored liquid dripped onto paper are some of the ideas floating around in Ingram's solo exhibition, Drip: New Drawings, at Solomon Projects.

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The drips of color lined up like prison bars provoke a variety of associations, depending upon Ingram's choice of color and technique.

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"Untitled (Pink)" suggests a continuum of girliness from pink to scarlet. At dead center is an iconic Barbie dream house pink, with a range of mauves, peaches and saucy reds radiating out like the various gradations of girl from innocent to experienced, young to old, conventional to bold.

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In another untitled work on paper, the colors represent a dramatic explosion of consumer options: blues the color of detergent bottles and a glittery disco silver. Ingram has been working in nail polish since 2000, but drawings like this illustrate what Ingram says has been some real growth in hues since he began the polish project.

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Polish that once evoked seashells, ballet and other delicate, natural hues have exploded into the entire Bratz-style post-nuclear fallout shades of lime, dried blood and Army green.

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In these patently artificial shades there are tiny worlds where thumbnail asteroids of glitter and metallic ziti tubers give a strange trippiness to the simple act of personal embellishment. In Ingram's polish drools, the lines form according to their whim — either nice, obedient and straight or wobbly like a drunk trying to walk a highway line.

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Like poster art paving the way for the feature film, Drips's real show stopper is a Big Kahuna 10-by-18-foot installation on one gallery wall. "Drip Drawing #2" features ceiling-to-floor trails of polish that puddle like tiny oil slicks in wildly vibrant shades when they reach the floor.

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That collaboration between Ingram, the polish and gravity, required hundreds of bottles of nail polish and illustrates the satisfying results when an artist gives himself over to the fickle and accidental in art-making.



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