VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: Recondite 

Painting in 3-D: New Spark Studios exhibit goes beyond two dimensions

Recondite
On display through Dec. 31
Spark Studios and Gallery
12 Hagood Ave.
(843) 817-1937
www.sparkstudiosandgallery.com

Not all painters are happy to work in two dimensions. Many add layers to their work until it takes on a textural depth; others go further, building up the paint until they make contours and three-dimensional forms.

Oil is a preferred medium for this kind of layering, taking the "fat over lean" painting process to an extreme. Adding and removing the layers is a painstaking, challenging procedure. If the layers aren't thick enough, the 3-D effect is lost. Add too many and the brushwork looks chunky and clumsy.

Not content with this challenge, Katie Mixon goes one step further and uses pastel-hewn cubist abstraction in her paintings. While that may explain the title of this show — "recondite" means mysterious, beyond average comprehension — there's still plenty to interpret in her eye-catching work, lots of potential shapes and stories, whether she intended them to be there or not.

"Grafting" is a good example. This abstracted landscape includes huddled rows of colorful shapes. The central shapes suggest rows of farmhouses or even vehicles, surrounded by carefully delineated fields under a cloud-speckled blue sky. Mixon uses her layering technique to incorporate furrows and field borders, increasing the strong sense of perspective. A red sunset reminds us that no matter how hard man tries to tame nature, it will always hold sway.

Mixon's most striking piece is an untitled seascape. Purple and black sea life, chopped up like sushi, inhabits blue water above a pale sea bed. At least, that's what it looks like. Without a title, this painting could be interpreted in several ways. But the multifaceted dark shapes contrast the calming blue colors behind them; Mixon communicates feelings even when there are no definite forms to latch onto.

Some of her other paintings are even more abstract: the flatter "Wonkamobile," with pastel colors too tasteful for any chocolate factory; a marsh brown/green "Cubist Still Life," and the thick, multilayered lines of "Eroded Columns."

All the paintings complement each other, though, and there's a sense of progression from 2-D images like the still life to tiered ones, such as "The Peppermint Farmer" with its rippling white ridges.

Opposite Mixon's work are Michael Verdi's paintings, prints, and ink drawings. His two largest pieces are his best because of the agreeable choice of colors — one blue, the other red, both with a Rothko-like kick. They complement each other, as well as the fall-colored art around them. There's also a smaller snot-green one next to them, the gallery equivalent of taking your ugly mate to a bar to make you look better.

By the front door, Sarah Palin can be yours for $100 — or a woodblock print of her at least. In a faded monochrome artwork Verdi duplicates her image; if Andy Warhol and Eadweard J. Muybridge had collaborated at a Republican pep rally they might have come up with something like this. Verdi continues the theme with the more vivid, complex "Palin."

Lurking in a corner is his ink-wrought "Women Swimmer." In this tableau, women wait submerged in a creek, ready for unsuspecting fly fishermen to throw them a line and reel in more than they bargained for. While the oil paintings are his strongest suit, it's good to see Verdi experimenting with different media.


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