In The Sensory Garden

Chronicle writer Kenneth Baker observes in a review of David Ireland’s work, “Bay Area art history still predisposes people to see mere flippancy in works by David Ireland…” a possibility that frankly I find rather distressing.
Okay, I mean, I get it: rock and twine, embracing like sleeping lovers; clown-faced smiles built of a ball suspended by wire; a tall ice cream glass frothing over with concrete, the approximation of a wild bendy straw protruding from the top.
But my interest wanders so quickly away from the obvious whimsy and becomes engrossed with the choppy granularity of the concrete paired with the smooth contours of glass and the dangerous-looking wire twisting above. This is why, I think, Baker is quick to caution the attentive viewer to think about Ireland’s work differently, should they previously have shelved him away under some dismissive genus of sculptor.
A selection of Baker’s work, now on view at Gallery Paule Anglim demonstrate his facility in employing a kind of forced synesthesia. He pairs together contrasting textures, demonstrates simply and articulately tensions built out of weight and restraint. Lumps of cement in neon blue are tantalizing geographies of smooth and sharp (and taste? I’m kinda curious. Frankly they look weirdly delicious. Must be years of conditioning due to M&Ms and Skittles). Touch of course is right out when it comes to art. But your body holds physical memories, tactile histories that inform your gaze as you examine Baker’s work.
If you’ve ever stared at the cracked surface of macadam and admired the faded remnants of paint on its surface, licked away by the soles of shoes, then you’ll appreciate Baker’s discerning selection of sources. I remember once being enthralled by the curve formed outside the door of a bookstore where I worked by the continual grating of a rock used as a jamb. In the case of the works on display, the material is the message. In A Portion of: From the Year of Doing the Same Work Each Day, 1975, the irregular topography of concrete and polymer resolves itself into peninsulas and coast lines, those “fiddly bits” that Slartibartfast enjoyed working on so much. Surfaces have stories to tell.
There is an over-used trope in hand-me-down sci-fi that beings reaching some extreme in their evolutionary development (already unscientific that, but I digress) shed their confining, clumsy shells and emerge as beings of pure energy and light. There is something deeply rooted in human apprehension that devalues external physicality, especially when interaction is not confined to the realm of the audio-visual: don’t twirl your hair, don’t play with your food, don’t drag your feet, get off of that.
The works on display form sophisticated relationships betwixt their elements: color and ingredients, found object and formed, platonic ideal and chaotic shapes and application and surface. Rethink, refeel these things as texture, as tangible objects, it seems to be nudging me.

And there’s a joke or two here as well.


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