June 2005 vol 104 number 6
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 from a 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 grease like 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.