san francisco art magazine

New Works

Chris Ashley and Alan Disparte

David Cunningham Projects
San Francisco, California

August 7th - September 13th, 2008

Reviewed by Dale Tegman
Alan Disparte - Sapphire Brew

"Sapphire Brew", acrylic on wood panel, 60" x 60", 2008

      The new work of Chris Ashley and Alan Disparte would appear to be an unlikely pairing for a show.

      Disparte layers acrylics on wood panels, creating large cell animation style paintings. He names them ("Swelter", "Helioscope", "Vinedresser") like a bill of rock bands. They aren't exactly without subjects: one recognizes melting snow, a dragon, a host of chevron. Each depicts a space where physics behave as they might in liquid.

     Ashley's work reproduces at 8.5" x 11" on ink jet paper. That's because his medium is HTML, the markup language web pages are assembled from. He creates new work every day, confessional elements of his art often succumbing to a workmanlike goal, like his month long meditation on Modern Artists, "After". Every piece is circumscribed by the possibilities and limitations of the pixel shape.

Chris Ashley - 365

"365" (2007), 365 inkjet prints, 132" x 263.5", 2008

      It turns out the artists share a gallery well, as demonstrated by their recent opportunity to show together facilitated by David Cunningham Projects. The space was punctuated everywhere with bold hues. Though neither artist limits their palette to a particular set of signifying colors, red shades provide a significant amount of Ashley's color impact. One of the most successful ten day stretches from his wall installation "365", documenting a year's worth of work, features a deep red background encroached upon by lines and angular black shapes. Reds and pinks were represented prominently in at least another two months' worth of other days, including one of Ashley's modified Celtic knots. Perhaps only white or the omission of color provides more emphasis in his work.

      An elegant pair of geometrics, "Transparencies 2007", demonstrates Ashley's ability to deploy his favorite tropes while using contrasts to convey meaning. In the first of the two transparencies, "Cinematic Dataculture", a blue and pale pink layer cake floats between two panes of acrylic. The blue color ripples throughout the structure, its primary function to demarcate the horizontal edges of the four stacked, diminishing tiers. Variety in the vertical striations of pink draw the eye across the structure, effectively bowing it out toward the steady edges. Because the work is deliberately pixelated, we assume the subject is manmade and therefore ascending. However, if we are instructed that the shape is representative of nature, the subject could just as easily be the trumpet of a morning glory opening to the ground.

Alan Disparte - Milkroom

"Milkroom", acrylic on wood panel, 60" x 84", 2008

      "Mountains" further explores the indeterminacy of this simple shape with a series of 15 similar panels. Yes, the tapering tawny form against a field of indigo could be a distant mountain. But what of the precise white daggers arranged rigidly in a pyramid against Coca Cola red? Nature, for all its regularity, rarely presents order. Thus, in other of the designs, we see an arrangement of white crosses against sky blue and think of the air force rather than a trail of birds. We see earth tone squares in different sizes and imagine land heaving up in an earthquake wave while their circuitous zig-zag might simply represent a path of paving stones.

      Disparte's color, itself allegedly drawn from and depicting the natural, favors the register of blueberries and oranges to that of stone and fawn. The entertaining "Sapphire Brew" depicts red orange tadpoles twisting in a Googie landscape of moss and navy plankton with orange, butterfly shaped sea sheddings. The partial reflection of a four-paneled window and the light blue glare on the creatures themselves indicated they are behind glass. Disparte's technique, which involves both a controlled drip and painting over masking tape that is then removed, creates broken lines and inexactitude. This habit lends to the perception of distance, as color and shapes seem broken when seen from afar. It also allows Disparte to add flashes of intimacy to the painting that permit the viewer to feel specially located relative to the subject. Just when the viewer appears to have the plaintive canvas figured out, Disparte throws in a comic detail. In this case, the translucency of the fish indicates they've been swallowing pink and blue jelly beans.

Chris Ashley - Transparencies 2007

"Transparencies 2007" (selection), inkjet prints between acrylic, 11" x 8.5" each

      Similarly, "Milkroom" shows an interior connected to its outer space by unusually strung telephone wires and shifting light from a window. Pink cardinals perched on driftwood outside twist their heads to peer in, sensing a presence. The sun is high on a cord of wood stacked on a slotted shelf. Just below the shelf, a yellow trough appears to be empty save for a snarl of driftwood coolly resting at the bottom. A bough of dried vines connects the upper and the lower portions of the interior but seems to dissipate as it approaches the window. A liquid flicker of red in the corner and radii emanating indicate a dreamlike relationship; the sawn wood is fantasizing about its once animate, outdoor life.

-- Dale Tegman

Dale Tegman is an online journalist living in San Francisco. Follow his popular blog at:

Images appear courtesy of the artists and David Cunningham Projects.
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