Bay Area artist Katina Huston has long used the immemorial technique of casting shadows to generate images.
We might expect her to have exhausted this practice, or the fascination it can produce, quite quickly. But her recent work at Dolby Chadwick shows her pushing her aesthetic to new levels of intensity and suggestiveness.
The figural anchor of most of the pieces here is a human skeleton whose shadowed details-ribs, skull, limbs- we recognize with a shudder. The fluid entanglements in an ink on Mylar piece such as "Nasturtium with Gold" (2014) postpone that recognition, initiating us to contemplate the work at first as an abstraction or a scrambled botanical.
Skulls have a long history in Western art as memento mori- reminders of mortality. Huston continues in this line, adding the metaphor of death as a shadow negating the light of conscious aliveness. She gives aliveness its due not through metaphor but by the vivifying effect of her works' optical richness.
In several new pieces, Huston has incorporated patches of plaid fabric pattern that suggest surrogate skins, where they intrude among skeletal details, or the clothing of consciousness in everyday inattention to the viscera that support it.
Morbid insinuations recede in a few works in which Huston used shadowed sprigs of slash pine, with an echo of antique Asian art, to generate forms that look like bursting fireworks.
But those insinuations return in force in a large horizontal work that displays the full skeleton recalling the early prints of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) built around full body X-rays.
Huston's art seems to contain little in the way of topical reference, but her work gains urgency from it exhorting us to scrutiny without fear, a discipline increasingly necessary in a culture bent on blinding itself with childish distractions.
exerpt "Katina Huston also draws abstractly on mylar, though her works contain color. Works of her such as Nasturtium with Gold and Map of the World layer elements that suggest nature, such as leaves, petals and branches, in a collage like fashion on a transparent background. Huston hangs actual leaves and other objects from the ceiling of her studio to let light shine through them and then draws the glowing shadows they make. The result is both naturalistic and abstract."
Shadows and light
Katina Huston has a fascination with shadows. For her show at Chase Young Gallery, the artist placed drinking glasses on translucent mylar, according to the musical notation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She shined lights and used ink to capture the glass’s shadows. The Goldberg Variations comprise an aria and 30 variations upon it. Huston’s process has a parallel: The form was a given; she shined lights across it according to her own pleasure.
Some of the works are too crowded with watery shadows seeping into one another; the effect is clamorous. The sparer works have more emotional velocity. In “Goldberg Variations 8, Not Glenn Gould,” made after a friend told her that Gould’s version was all about color, and Bach’s original all about meter, Huston’s approach is more conservative.
The forms here are more discrete, each translucent and faceted, but as shadows somehow pulpier, filled with the longing associated with absence, than depictions of the glasses themselves might be. And the tones! The artist infuses dark outlines with smatterings of sapphire, emerald, and amethyst, as if stray jewels had been left in the glasses, tossing out phantasms of light.
The smaller works represent a bar of music, the larger ones up to five or six. The notation is hard to parse, but there’s something stately and evocative about the large-scale “Goldberg Variations 4, Aria,” a scroll written over only in dark and white ink, with the white carrying all the sparks of light. The whole leans toward an S curve. It’s hard to draw music, but the undertones, highlights, and fluidity of movement here come close.
Bay Area artist Katina Huston uses ink to trace the shadows of objects, thereby making a permanent record of the insubstantial and evanescent. To create each of the 16 drawings in her dazzling 2012 series "Goldberg Variations," she arranged glasses-from champagne flutes to ordinary tumblers-in the positions of musical notes on segments of the sheet music for a famous composition by Bach. She then shone lights on the groupings and used ink and vinyl paint on Mylar to register the shadows of the glassware, suggestion a silent soundtrack with her art.
The resulting images transpose the stark black-and-white patterns of sheet music into abstract visual compositions filled with interludes of alternating cut-crystal sparkle and opacity, turbulence and orderly calm. Some of the "Variations" appear to be almost figurative, as the contours of the glasses remain easily legible. In others, Huston's tracings coalesce in collisions of radiating rings that evoke ripples in water-or the vibrations of sound.
The monochrome Goldberg Variations 1, Glass Shadows in 4/4 Time presents 20 vessels, placed in a grid that recalls Modernism's clean structures more than Baroque flourishes. For a trio of "Goldberg Variations," each called a Wineglass Aria, Huston chose a palette of black and gold ink, and jade vinyl paint. The diversity of the three works implies that even when employing the same piece of music, the same style of glass, and the same colors, the artist can find endless permutations. Positive space and negative space shift, and forms dance and dissolve. Like a mysterious language, gold markings harness the myriad effects of illumination on and through the intricate surfaces. Strings of circles, created from the glasses' bases, resemble whole notes written on the musical page-fluid melodies scored in light and darkness.
In this show titled, "Big Noise," Katina Huston renders a veritable band of brass instruments in her signature technique-tracing the shadows of objects in sumi ink on Mylar. This method imbues her work with both a richness and a sense of tension. The serendipity of sooty, pooled ink is juxtaposed with the rigidity of the traced lines. Depending on the balance, some works are hits and others are near misses, In her best offerings, Huston lets go and allows the ink to have its way. Fadeout 2 (2010) is a stately beauty, like an arrangement of calla lilies. The fretwork of overlapping inked forms is darkly dense at the base and lightens as the horns rise to "bloom."
Huston introduces a sense of motion in French Horn Dynamo (2010). The centrifugal composition is a wild dance; space seems to be compressed in the center and objects further out seem to be spinning. In French Horn Dynamo (Silver), (2010), she goes even further, letting the instruments dissolve into each other. In Blast (2010) and Scales (2010) her technique falters, the trombone slides rendered in forced stuttering strokes.
Huston's process is risky. Each layer is painted separately and must dry before the next overlay is added. The ink is unforgiving and the Mylar allows no erasures or reworking.
Huston's earlier series of bicycles drawings had great verve and subtlety. The arcs of the wheels, the overlapping lattices of the spokes and the complexities of gears and sprockets were composed with great attention to transparency and the interplay of negative space. The horns of 'Big Noise' don't translate as easily. Their bulky, opaque bells, when traced and filled in, seem flattened and smashed, like steamrollered instruments, But at their best, they make a wonderful visual noise- Lea Fienstein
You need light to see your shadow, and Katina Huston uses several lights to cast shadows of everyday objects such as glasses, bicycles and horns. She suspends them from her studio ceiling, then traces their shadows on the floor in ink. Huston's show at Chase Young Gallery is most enthralling when she is least literal, when her shadows smear and blurt and bubble, and that seems to happen most in her brass section.
"Trumpet Shadow 2" is nearly vaporous, with two dark moons at the horns' mouths surrounded by looping hardware in pale sepia. At times, the ink explodes out of the form like steam. Or like music. In "Blast 2," several trombones jutt across the unframed Mylar surface. Some are dark, some are just pale impressions. Huston evokes the sense of light on polished brass while at the same time creating something much less tangible, a single organism of tangled lines and fluid luscious shading.
In some of Huston's bicycle-wheel drawings, the wheels pirouette on the one point, or move in an orderly way across the page. But her most striking wheels, such as those in "Kitchen Fire (Hand of God)" collide. Six duke it out on the right, spokes wildly crossing, hubs at aggressive angles to one another. Two more fly off into space as if breaking from the melee. All fall off the edges of the picture ramping up the feeling of motion and fracture.
In her day, Bay Area Artist Katina Huston has worn both the Lycra shorts of a death-defying bike messenger and the chevron-ed robe of a depth defying college professor. For her solo exhibition at the Chase Young Gallery, she's pulling from both wardrobes with a series of ink on Mylar prints that draws upon Baudrillard, Duchamp, and this one time that this motherfucker in a Hummer didn't check his blind spot and almost fucking killed her. With a passion for all things velocipede, Huston sketches abstract roadmaps of spokes spider-webbing their way across the page. [450 Harrison Ave., No 57, Boston 617.859.7222 6pm/free. chaseyounggallery.com]
Two separate things occured while I was working on the review of Katina Huston's recent exhibition 'Field of Vision'. First I visited an artist who was working on a new series that used photographs of the backs of well known paintings to create new artworks. Jean Baudrillard's theory of simulacrum, the re-creation of an object based not on the original but of an image of the original should be kept in mind when considering Huston's ink on Mylar drawings.
Although she is creating a drawings as opposed to an actual object, the fact that Huston has removed the subject directly from her imagery by capturing its shadow, is intriguing. Huston projects an artificial light onto the subject which casts a shadow onto the canvas. She then pours a variety of ink onto the Mylar paper, and waits for the layer to dry before continuing on. By relying on the shadow to recreate the objects form, in the case of 'Shadow Pair', a chair, Huston gifts the object a new life. She goes beyond simple depiction of the chair, to the more interesting tension between presence and absence, and a completely new perspective on the object.
Huston has previously worked with the imagery of bicycle rims and it is with this object matter that she is able to add another layer of dimensionality. In works such as 'Tsunami' and 'Dynamo', Huston seems to have constantly repositioned the light on the rim while simultaneously rotating the Mylar canvas, which results in a kinetic feeling, and adds a sense of motion to what could have easily stopped with static composition.
Huston also incorporates chandeliers into her drawings which brings me to the second occurence that caused me to re-think Huston's work. I am not sure if it is because of her handling of the chandelier, but ever since I saw Huston's drawings, every where I turn it seems that more and more artists are using chandeliers, and if so, her take on why it was becoming increasingly popular. Her response was "Chandeliers are the new skulls." This may be, but Huston's handling of the chandelier goes beyond any others I have seen. She brings another dimension to depictions like 'Light and Crystal'. The angle of this drawing draws the viewer close and once there, reveals her depth of technique. To render such detail by pouring ink onto a non-absorbent surface demonstrates not only skill and defininte knowledge of the ojbect, but an infinite amount of patience as well.
What was most surprising about Huston's show at Dolby Chadwick was her completely different body of work in a smaller adjacent gallery. Exhibited for the first time in San Francisco, this group used enamel and discarded human hair obtained from a friend who works in a hair salon. The results, as seen in 'Tropical Interior' are seductive patterns not unlike Victorian wallpaper. Beautiful to look at, I found myself struggling to calm the quiet nagging of repulsion that arose from its hair-ness. But this may in fact be what Huston wants to evoke. Simultaneously seductive and repellent. Huston successfully creates a subtly tactile feeling that lingers with the viewer long after they have left the gallery sapce.
Any exhibition that features work by notable Bay Area artists Hung Liu, Carlos Villa and Gail Wight probably warrants a visit. But the drawings of the little-celebrated Katina Huston upstage everything else in "Visual Alchemy Phase 2" at the Oakland Art Gallery.
In black coffin-like constructions fitted with small brass plates, Villa offers not very effective figures for interior life, personal memory and ancestry.
Liu shows characteristically vivid paintings and graphic works that translate antique photographs of people in China into a modernist aesthetic idiom.
Gail Wight offers a series of works that probe for links between the assumptions of science and those of visual display. Her inkjet prints of dissected mechanical toys make light of the scientific axiom that taking something apart is the best way to understand it.
But Huston's drawings outrun everything else here in visual impact and intelligence.
Huston draws in inks on Mylar, an impermeable material that causes liquid media applied to it to pool and settle out as they dry.
In the three pieces on view, she has piled up shadows cast by bicycles to create pictorial structures that wink with the recognizable details but finally force the eye to surrender to their sheer graphic brilliance.
Any bicycle part that appears in contemporary art will call to mind Marcel Duchamp's iconic "ready-made" of bicycle wheel pointlessly fastened atop a four-legged stool. Viewers who know Jasper Johns' ink on mylar drawings of Duchamp paintings will think of them also.
But Huston moves in just the opposite direction from Duchamp's drive away from "the retinal" in art and toward an exhilaration we might associate more with Futurism's delight in machinery and speed, had not so many Futurists also gloried in the civilazational crack-up of World War I.
Huston's work glories in the pleasures of seeing and the eye's transits as a possible brake on the waywardness of the mind.
Bay Area Artist Katina Huston has gotten a lot of artistic mileage out of drawings based on shadows cast by bicycle wheels, an image with surprisingly rich associations.
In her recent work at Dolby Chadwick, in an exhibition that ends today, shows her at the end of that road, beginning to turn in a new direction.
It takes a moment to recognize the indexical subject of "Light and Crystal" (2008) as a chandelier. The streetward orientation of Huston's earlier peices encourages us to see the image at first as a rubbing of a passage in the pavement, maybe a mahole cover. As in earlier work, her technique of flooding mylar with ink yields imagery that looks richly abstract inch by inch.
Another body of new work, involving a kind of flocking does not convince me yet, but it already stirs curiousity about her next show.
Visitors who know the lore of Marcel Duchamp's "readymades" will think of it the moment they encounter Katina Huston's pleasing show of drawings at Dolby Chadwick.
Huston generates forms by tracing and inking shadows cast by bicycle parts on Mylar sheets. Huston apparantly invokes Duchamp as a foil for the visual richness of her work.
The most famous bicycle wheel shadow in the history of art falls into Duchamp's 1918 painting "Tu'm'". The picture happens to be hanging in Los Angeles in the UCLA Hammer Museum's involving summer show "The Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America" (through August 20). The L.A. exhibition surveys the legendary collection that painter and patron Katherine Dreier assembled with Duchamp's help and eventually left to Yale University.
Duchamp's painted shadow evokes the notorious first 'readymade," a bicycle's front fork and wheel fastened upright to the seat of a kitchen stool. the 'original' disappeared in the flotsam of Duchamp's life, so he later authorized a small edition of replicas. The shadow in "Tu'um'" helped keep the quizzical object's memory alive, though the mere rumor of its making might have done as much.
Duchamp set himself against what he called the "retinal" emphasis of early 20th Century art. Picasso and Braque then had only recently shuffled the deck of pictorial space with Cubism. Monet, Renoir, and Degas were still at work in France, though all in failing health. Meanwhile, Matisse in midcareer struggled to give substance to "decoration."
The eye ruled and with the "readymades," Duchamp took a poke at it on behalf of ironic intellect and the then still unmapped context that modern art requires to shore up its meaning.
In "Mechanical Repeat I" Huston has nearly buried her allusion to Duchamp under half-legible, dissonant information. She has done it by overlapping shadows cast from several angles and by using ink on an impermeable surface. The ink puddles and runs, blurs contours and probably gets blotted up here and there. A riot of shattered description results, so involving to the eye that the mind willingly lets go of the handlebars.
In the 1980's Jasper John's based a series of ink-on -Mylar drawings on early paintings by Duchamp . Huston may actually have found permisson in John's example to dive back into aesthetic detail despite the momentum and prestige that now belongs to conceptual art.
The title of Huston's show, "Cyclone" refers to several pieces in which blotchy bike wheel shadows stack up into cyclone spirals. But I prefer the more congested, seemingly more disordered images. They put her process and its aesthetic payoff first.
It's not often that art succeeds in combining the monumental and the ephemeral, but Katina Huston's large scale images of bicycles managed to be both ghostly and remarkably solid. To say that Huston merely paints bicycles is a bit like saying Susan Rothenberg is just a horse painter. For years the Bay Area artist and philosophy instructor has used the bicycle as her personal talisman, depicting it repeatedly in oversize monochrome compositions in ink on Mylar. Among the works in this show, some captured a single bike emerging froma white background like the Shroud of Turin, a faint holy relic. Others offered a complex tangle of tires, gears, spokes and derailleurs-a web of metal transformed into a dance of light and dark.
Through trial and error, Huston has developed a painstaking technique. Using some 20 different inks, she must pour each layer and then allow it to dry before starting another because Mylar is a non-absorbent surface. As a result, the compositions rely to some degree on chance, on the physical process of pooling and evaporation. But the pieces are also tightly composed, and the totemic bikes emerge as if conjured from their constituent puddles and greaselike stains.
This exhibition offered several other variations on the bicycle motif, but none compared with the transparent washes on Mylar. In these works, the bicycle-a simple machine that becomes an extension of the human body- is subjected to an X-ray, transformed and made insubstantial. But the original, the soul of the machine is still there, a picture of the fleeting glance of a shadow.
Katina Huston's ink-on-Mylar drawings of bicycles - only bicycles- look startlingly like birch forests in winter. Such woods may be unfamiliar to Bay Areans used to wooly redwoods and chaparral, but back East, each individual tree stands calm and prim separated from its neighbors by plenty of space and light, reinforcing the precise specific shape of the next one. Alone a birch might appear unremarkable, but the repetition of angles has an odd magnifying effect, and that goes for Huston's somberly patient two-wheelers as well. Of course, trees are not circular, nor do they hang or have pedals to render as if they were bones in an X-ray. The water color quality of Huston's brownish-black ink makes color irrelevant: Everything takes a back seat to arches, tilts and a constant glowing white background.
Huston's untitled exhibition continues through July 1 at Dolby Chadwick Gallery , 210 Post (at Grant), SF. www.dolbychadwickgallery.com
Bicycles can set you free. Propelled by wheels, pedals and a pumping heart, you fly, float and soar.
Articulating that transcendent moment has challenged artists since medieval times. Many answer in mythological or religious renderings. Abstractionist Mark Rothko chose hovering hues.
Then, here's San Franciscan Katina Huston going for it with a bicycle. And she succeeds brilliantly by capturing an elusive target: the shadow as proof of experience. Shadows hold the future and the past but, as Thoreau postulated in "Walking," it's living in the present that permits spiritual migration, Huston's motif.
Huston makes the bicycle our metaphoric transport; its shadows our ephemeral moments. Like accumulative artist Deborah Oropallo, she foregoes irony, cultural references and narrative. Gingerl , she seeks individual survival and freedom through purity, silence and peace.
Expressing such non-tactile concepts requires skilled subtlety and chance. Pouring and painting black and brown ink on frosted non-porous Mylar, Huston accedes to instinct, trusting her artistic past. Shape-shifting with amoebic autonomy, the inks pool and seep between delicate calligraphic lines. Drying into patterns, they reiterate geologic tributaries and parched earth.
Within these translucent forms, a host of shadows shape the "Accumulation Series." Layers in "Bounce" mark time's passage as succinctly as diary pages. In "Tracings" Intertwining lines mimic the repetitive fleeting contact a wheel makes with earth. The "Shadow Series" includes small out of focus bicycle fragments and grand mystical impressions of a single bike. Their power feels cumulative, like the wisdom of age. In "Bicycle-Solo" handlebars morph into wings, beckoning us to break free.
Huston guides with elegant precision. Grasping the elusive seconds between reality and nirvana, she witnesses the invisible , mapping a path to revelation.