When I decided to start writing these short reviews of shows, I intended to primarily write negative reviews. In general, I am a pretty positive guy; but I can’t remember the last time I read a review of any local show that could be classified as anything worse than middling, and I think that is a problem. In practice, this has proven to be a little more difficult than I expected. The thing is, when I see a piece that is poorly executed, I don’t get upset. If I think a piece lacks depth, I just move on. Even art that strikes me as just plain bad doesn’t make me feel like speaking out, it usually doesn’t really make me feel anything. I still think the Boston art world needs more bad reviews (feel free to come out and shit on my next show, really), but I am just not sure I can find the motivation to be the one that writes them.

So this time I set out to see a show that I was fairly certain I would like, to accept defeat once again, and just keep talking about the shows that I am excited about. For anyone that needs a recap, the kind of work that I am generally excited about is the kind that makes me think, and is also beautifully crafted. The kind that has something interesting to say, but does not lose sight of the fact that the act of creating (or performing) a piece is an equal partner to what is being said.

Cobi Moules makes that kind of work.

So despite the fact that a lot of the local galleries are hanging summer shows made up of last season’s left overs, and some are not even bothering to open at all, I was excited to make my way through the August heat to Carroll and Sons so I could check out Cobi’s work.

Cobi Moules Summet Shoot VI

Cobi is a transgender guy, and this show is all about his struggles to fit in, and find his way through some confusing childhood desires. The paintings are very carefully rendered copies of New Kids on the Block posters, magazine clipping, and trading cards, with the artist inserting himself into the role of Danny Wood (perfect, because really, nobody really liked Danny all that much anyways). The paintings are all small scale pieces that invite you to really bury your nose in them and examine every detail. When you do this, what is revealed is really amazing. The paintings are very simple. No painterly embellishments, or subtle layering here; because really, it wouldn’t make any sense. The paintings are true to the spirit of the references, feeling very much like a 1990’s Teen Beat print quality level detail, except for the portraits of Cobi. I have no idea if this is intentional, or just a byproduct of his familiarity with his own face, but he stands out in the paintings. In each piece, Cobi is just slightly sharper, and more detailed than the New Kids that surround him, making him the star of the show here. It really gives a wonderful feeling of fitting in, while standing out.

Cobi Moules Drug Free School Zone

The subject matter being explored is obviously significant, but the imagery is so playful and engaging that the pieces are easily approachable. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was smiling so hard in an art gallery. While his experience may seem to be far from what the average person may have gone through, these paintings find a brilliant way of revealing that we all have a lot more in common than what is seen at first glance.

Cobi Moules NKOTB Trading Card

I have no idea why Carroll and Sons sent it to summer show purgatory, but this show is definitely worth visiting before it comes down at the end of the week.

Cobi Moules

New Kid: Back to the Beginning

at Carroll and Sons

August 3 – 20, 2016

These days, when I am searching for inspiration, or trying to find my way through a problem in my work, I tend to look in music.

I have written a little about this before.

The thing is, I spend so much time thinking about painting, so much time examining the structure, and so much time analyzing the techniques used, that I have reached a point where I have a hard time turning that off. It’s hard to enjoy a magic show, when you know the trick to all the illusions. As this point, when I come across a great painting, I approach it like a scientist, like an archaeologist gently uncovering the layers of paint. It’s a great way to learn how to make paintings, but a terrible way to really connect with a piece. I often find myself unable to turn this off. So I look to something that is still a little more mysterious (to me), I look to music to find my muse.

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There are still occasions when I come across work that I can’t reverse engineer. Sometimes I come across work that does something I cannot figure out, and does it incredibly well. I have been talking a lot about organizing a show of portraiture; and as I have been selecting artists for this exhibition, this is a lot of what I have been looking for.

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When they want to stop people in their tracks, to grab attention and pull people in, painters go big. It’s relatively easy to make an impression with the largest piece in the gallery, we know this. Getting the same response from a six inch tall piece is something different. Catherine Kehoe makes small paintings that command attention from across the room. Pieces that look great from a distance, and then get even better as you move in for a closer look. Years ago, I stumbled upon an exhibition of Catherine’s portraits at what is now Miller Yezersky Gallery (just Howard Yezerski Gallery back then), and I have been borderline obsessed with her work ever since. As I am typing this, I am staring at the tiny icons of the files that contain images of her work. Incredibly, the pieces still draw me in at this tiny scale. This is the magic of her work, not a single stroke of the brush (or knife) is wasted. The paintings walk a fine line, where the careful planning of each crisp mark is clearly evident, but somehow they still feel effortlessly spontaneous.

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I am writing this after a long day in the studio so, this is going to be short and sweet. I plan on diving deeper into her work soon, but Catherine’s current solo show at Miller Yezersky Gallery closes next week. On the off chance anyone out there is not familiar with her work, I wanted to make sure I did my part to encourage you to go pay it a visit. Obviously, my favorites are the portraits, but she even manages to find a way to make me love still life painting.

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She will be at the gallery this Saturday from 1-4pm (and has promised chocolate snacks) so that is an ideal time to stop in and experience the show before it’s too late.

There is something about photography, something missing. I have had a hard time identifying exactly why, but I just can’t convince myself to give photography the same attention that I would pay to other visual art forms. When I see a beautifully composed photograph, or one with exceptional subject matter, I will stand in front of it, and I will try. I will try to get pulled into the image. I will try to stay focused, and really consider the piece. I will try, but I will usually fail.

Obviously, creating a great photograph takes a lot of planning and precision. I am not trying to claim that photography is easy, or that it is not a useful and potentially powerful form of art. Maybe it is because I spend so much time using photography as a tool to create prints or paintings. Maybe it is because I spend too much time on the internet, burning hundreds of throwaway images into my eyes each day. I don’t quite know the answer, but I default to treating photography (even the really good stuff) the same way I treat my Instagram feed. Quickly stopping in front of the ones that catch my eye, then moving on about my day without ever slowing down to collect more than an immediate impression.

Last Friday, I set out to check out the Jacob Collins show opening at Adelson Galleries here in Boston. Now, landscape and still life paintings… are not exactly my thing. This is not the kind of subject matter that would normally motivate me to get up off my couch and across town on a Friday night. In this case, I hoped to find something in Jacob’s process. By all accounts, he is a talented realist painter, and while I am not generally concerned with following traditional methods, I still know enough to see that there is a lot I can learn from them. So I headed to the show in hopes of finding some technique that really spoke to me. I wanted to be dazzled, not by his imagery, but by his process.

I left that show after not much more than a quick lap around the gallery.

Instead, I found what I was looking for in Dell Hamilton’s photographs at SubSamson. As I walked into her space (she is the current resident artist at SubSamson), Dell was describing her work to another visitor, and I was immediately pulled in. She was describing exactly the problem I had been having with so much photography. Creating a great photograph takes planning. It takes technical precision. It is not an easy process to get right, but most of the work is done before the act of actually hitting the button. A lot of what I respond to in a work of art, has to do with the process. There is a lot of magic that can happen, after the plan has been established, but before the final product is presented. The act of creating, of working through problems, of making mistakes, and then finding a way to use them to your advantage; this human touch lends an air of importance to art work, and it is missing in a most photography. In the case of the photographs Dell was showing, composing and taking the photograph was just the beginning.

She described using the initial photographs as the basis for improvisation, experimenting with traditional analog, as well as digital techniques to introduce distortions and allowing each process to leave its mark along the way. Some of the marks are identifiable, key codes from old film, dust or fingerprints collected along the way; others are harder to pin down, distortions introduced by older scanners, glitches from editing software. The resulting images combine that nostalgia for old analog mediums, with the visual ques that may one day arouse similar feelings (future nostalgia?), in a way that really sings.

The work, and Dell, really speak better for themselves, so I will simply say that I left inspired, and recommend that you pay her a visit.

DH