Marc Brotherton gets in shape at Callanwolde

The paintings in Proliferate, Marc Brotherton's solo exhibition at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Gallery, map both the potential and the limits of an artist's engagement with his medium. All 11 works are executed in acrylics, most augmented with ink. And although a few paintings generate both heat and light, just as many run aground as the materials and technique fall short of their intended target.

In his best paintings, Brotherton channels the dysfunctional clockwork of early 20th-century geometric abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky. The works range from small-scale 20-by-16-inch canvases to medium-size works of about 3 by 4 feet. While the imagery in each painting comprises an abstract accumulation of geometric shapes – half orbs, crystalline structures, faceted triangles and so on – they simultaneously hint at all manner of crazed machines, mechanized little automata, and the weird technology of UFOs in flight.

"Subverter" (2008) is as close to an unqualified success as any work in the show. Like its companion works, "Subverter" is packed with Brotherton's private language of glyphs and schematic ink drawings ensconced in self-contained cells floating in a disarrayed pictorial universe. The painting's nautical art deco motifs explode with the kaleidoscopic psychedelia of Yellow Submarine--era Beatles. The colors are lucid, the surfaces active and clean.

"Subverter" is meticulously detailed – most of its major edges have been rendered hard as with a ruler or masking tape. The work references the history of graphic design as much as it does painting.

Other works, however, fare less well. "Subverter's" precision can't make up for "Nano Activator," which buckles under heavy-handed composition and an unsatisfying use of materials. "Nano Activator's" surfaces are gummy and at times have a distracting foamy, aerated quality.

A sub-school of Atlanta artists has made a career out of walking a tightrope between seeming chaos in composition and an almost neurotic sense of control in execution. Draftsman Alex Kvares comes to mind, as well as painter Matt Relkin, whose gem of a solo show at Young Blood Gallery last summer was rock solid.

Brotherton, however, visits that territory only in fits and starts. When the work gets there, the results are a revelation. When it misses, we're left only with bits and pieces looking for a whole.

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