Surrealism, going on a 100-years old now, is as much a period style as any other art movement. Its antecedents—the theories of Sigmund Freud and a Europe devastated by war, in particular—are established to the point of being common knowledge.
But surrealism with a small “s”—that is to say, a phenomenon definable not as a distinct style, but as an embodiment of invented worlds—has been with us for centuries. In the visual arts, any number of figures–Bosch, Böcklin, Fuseli and Arcimboldo, to name a few–dealt with images that had no direct equivalent in the observed world. Dreams, in their wildness, have been with us since Day One. Artists haven’t been far behind. Much of the time, they’ve been ahead.
Fictional Narratives, a three-person exhibition curated by Alex Ferrone at her Alex Ferrone Gallery in Cutchogue, asks the question: What might the surreal look like, here, in the 21st century? Technology plays a significant role in the answer. Marisa S. White, Richard Aardsma and Laura Dodson work with photography, but aren’t photographers per se.
Their imagery is filtered through the camera’s lens, and subsequently manipulated by digital means. The documentary or the anecdotal—photography’s presumed stock-in-trade—is embellished through nuances in texture, light and juxtapositions of form that could not have been imagined by montage artists tinkering in their darkrooms during the last century.
White’s poetic meditations on femininity and evolution, Aardsma’s quixotic mashups of retro Americana, and Dodson’s layered orchestrations of discarded snapshots and memorabilia are, as feats of technical acumen, seamless and even painterly. Their images—sometimes kaleidoscopic, invariably enigmatic—are rendered tangible, the stuff of here-and-now. It’s worth remembering that surrealism doesn’t deny the real so much as unmask and amplify it. And so it is with these artists.
The melding of fact and fantasy—the merging of materials and imagination, methodology and abandon—is, of course, an inherent part of the creative process. In White’s “Calling Upon a Storm” (2014), we see the natural world operating with a logic and precision that creates, and then sustains, an almost mystical lyricism. The ghostly zeppelin seen in the distance of Aardsma’s truck-stop diorama, “Palm Springs Diner” (2021)? It’s a harbinger from another time and place. In “It Was” (2017), Dodson suffuses high fashion within Renaissance abundance to create a talisman of unsettling effect and erotic undercurrent.
In each case, the artist choreographs a set of motifs that are indicative of an idiosyncratic vision, but also, and not least, a world worth reckoning with.
Fictional Narratives underscores the ubiquity of the dreamlike, and the pleasures to be gleaned from its caprices.
The Fictional Narratives exhibition has been extended through November 7 at Alex Ferrone Gallery, 25425 Main Road in Cutchogue. Call 631-734-8545 or visit alexferronegallery.com for more info.
Originally published at mnaves.wordpress.com.