Visual Arts - Time Tripping
Past meets present at Krause Gallery exhibition
The Castleberry Hill neighborhood feels haunted, even on the sunniest days.
Lost souls drift through its streets on their way to soup kitchens and pawnshops, flanked by a canyon of timeworn warehouses. There is something forsaken about the often desolate streets with their broken sidewalks, vacant lots and the melancholy cry of the trains passing in the distance. The spell of old times is periodically broken by the roar of some pristine roadster from behind iron gates, or a cloud of fabulousness wafting out of Slice on a weekend night.
The same mix of enthrallment with the past and a knowing, contemporary vibe characterizes the work of three artists on view at Krause Gallery. Their presence in Castleberry makes a certain aesthetic sense, typifying the district's atmospheric limbo between decay and gentrification.
All three - Jason Murphy, Christian B. West and Liz Darlington - create work that refers to the past, but with a modern sensibility typified by West's photographs. Like Sally Mann, West is clearly charmed by the early photography his grainy, sepia-toned portraits recall. But West invests his images of handsome, sensual young men and artfully photographed women with a contemporary sexuality and savviness. Unlike Mann, West tends to emphasize style above all, and has less psychological marrow at the center of his work.
Jason Murphy has created a body of paintings on aluminum centered on the fascinating movie-worthy story of his grandfather, a pilot shot down over Italy during World War II, who evaded the Germans by living in a cave for two months and then traveling by train to Rome.
Murphy's works are sporadically successful in evoking the danger of that time and the romantic lens through which the present regards it. Some of the works are genuinely eerie and favor an atmospheric impression of his grandfather's journey over a literal vision, as seen in a beautifully cropped image of a train indicated only by a plume of smoke and smokestack. But Murphy can just as often gild the lily, allowing a perfumed romanticism to predominate, as when he substitutes his own face for his grandfather's in his WWII leather flying gear, a kind of empty, precious conceptual gesture. Murphy seems at his best when his imagery and his intent is murkier and thus more haunting, when he gets into the guts of the thing he's painting and tries to see it all through the eyes of the past.
Liz Darlington is certainly the most adept of the trio at stylistically evoking the past. Her intoxicating crystal ball images wonderfully replicate the hazy atmosphere and inky tones of 19th-century daguerreotypes. But Darlington also offers a subtle visual commentary on the world as a place colored by the various perspectives through which we peer.
Darlington's beautiful vignettes are characterized by the kind of smoky halos that often accompany silent films, making viewers feel as though they are looking through time's very keyhole.
There is the sense that we are not only traveling to the distant places she documents - the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Victoria Falls, the French countryside - but plunging through the rabbit hole of photographic history. In an astounding image of a Lithuanian hillside choked with crosses, she offers even more. It's a ringside view of death as a cluttered, chaotic border town offering passage to the bank of white clouds above and black earth below.
Darlington proves her ability on several counts to distill the wonder of place. Of the three artists, she is the one I would most trust to capture that peculiar timeworn allure of Castleberry through her enchantment-bestowing lens.