Review: Three New Works by Colin Oulighan

Sans Marco Gallery in Joey Frank’s apartment

133 Dikeman Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn

by Jacob Hicks

 

Sans Marco is a repurposed bedroom dressed as white cube venue in the back of artist Joey Frank’s apartment.  The irregularity of the space is an aside to encountering the art of Colin Oulighan, whose focused and intelligent paintings sing in this context. The artist’s previous show was in a playground, and the one before that in a lawyer’s office; this is to say that his engagement of alternative exhibition space and spit fire site-specificity (use what you have access to cleverly, a common modus operandi) enriches the work as the work enriches the context it is placed within.

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Oulighan identifies as a painter, though the use of bas-relief wood carving and dimensional addendums (like marbles) make a good case for consideration of his art as sculpture.  His predecessors include Medieval wood carvers like Tilman Riemenschneider, quattrocento painters such as Carlo Crivelli, the synthetic cubists-especially Juan Gris  during the development of crystal cubism (Gris painted views of nature within his unfolding diagrams of interior space resonant within Oulighan’s oeuvre), and the practitioners of assemblage.

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Oulighan’s three new pieces are polychromatic wooden paintings playing the poetic roles of zen gardens, domestic mirrors, boardgames, racetracks, and icons.

The purpose of a zen garden is to contain, shape, and re-relate the self to nature.  Sand and stone serve as metaphor for water, to be raked and reoriented.  The garden itself pointedly is not nature, but a man-made microcosm of it-intended to be viewed from a specific vantage.  The study and care of the garden enhances meditation.

A mirror is the inverse of actuality and maybe the closest one can come to having an objective view of the self.

A board game is tactile and sonorous, as Oulighan described to me. Crunches, pops, fingers against wood, small movable figurines all provide a sensate linkage to the cultural constructions of systematized power-Monopoly, Chance, Chess, Checkers, Hungry Hippos, Marbles, etc. Board games are micro-wars for children illustrating and solidifying within them two-dimensional notions of hierarchy and power, the kinds that run our civilizations.

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A race track is a macro-board game, one whose historical relation to the chariot cannot be forgotten or taken lightly.  The charioteers in ancient Rome were representative of various political factions whose investment in cultural power was as much on display as the sport itself.

The icon is the God’s eye, the inanimate representation of that higher order whose perfection highlights the fallacy of the self and intimates our desires to be richer, stronger, better, braver, more holy.  The icon is the symbol of omniscience and parallel to the mirror.

The marble, a particularly strong motif in Oulighan’s art, is both a tool of game play and a clear metaphor for the universe, a self-contained and frozen interior system.  Like the Zen Garden, it is a non-functioning, static depiction of nature.

One glass marble is embedded within a wall of the gallery, a small gesture for the space itself, so quiet in its placement as to be nearly missed.  It plays the role of bullet, pebble, road block,  blister, universe; all this and it is still hard to see, and placed just so.

Oulighan’s painting is synthetic, building an exciting newness from a poetic and playful recombination of archetype/symbol.  I am very interested to follow the direction his work will take from here, and I recommend this show to the serious looker.

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