In Excess

Ben Will and Ashley Flynn show extreme and reductive representations of their genres.

By Roberta Fallon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 19, 2010

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Photo by Ben Will

Ben Will’s paintings and sculptures in “The Beast From the Belly of a Boeing” at the University City Arts League feel very familiar. The show is sparse, consisting of only four paintings and three sculptures. Collectively, the work taps into the unconscious and never coalesces into a narrative, although a story is implied. Each painting depicts a floating, cloud-like mass in bright, acidic colors that casts a shadow beneath it. Like topographical maps, the paintings suggest another world. Mountain ranges, rivers, forests and wispy, drippy atmospheric areas of smoke or mist appear in these specimen-like works. The sculptures—made of toys, paint, tape and assembled flotsam—stand at attention like playground equipment awaiting children.

Like Richard Tuttle’s sphinx-like toss-offs, Will’s works have the outer trappings of something slight. Unlike Tuttle, the paintings and sculptures are beautifully crafted and offer more than formalist readings. Will, who runs Rebekah Templeton Gallery with his wife Sarah Eberle, has produced a show where the pieces talk beautifully with each other in a language we don’t understand. The work toys with art history, science and science fiction, but it’s not devoid of emotion. They are deep portents, but of what, we don’t know.

In extreme contrast to Will’s reductive show is Ashley Flynn’s “Expelled From Eden, her second solo show at Knapp Gallery. The show delivers a punch. There will be victims. Your eyes will hurt. Your senses may be offended. But Flynn doesn’t care.

Her installation of figure drawings and paintings (done on paper, canvas and directly on the wall) is an explosion of rape, child abuse, self-abuse, suicide, family dysfunction and societal neglect of the poor and needy. The show wears its anger and emotion proudly. It’s as if the artist denies the last 50 years of art history and is channeling the art of protest and witnessing by Kathe Kollwitz, George Grosz and other activist artists. At a time when cool distance is the goal of most artists, Flynn’s moralizing liberal rampage puts her in league with today’s minority voices in the art world—street photographers Zoe Strauss and Alec Soth and grafitti artist Swoon, for example.

Flynn’s standout moments come in her use of photographic imagery collaged onto the paintings. The artist, who graduates from Moore College of Art and Design this spring, photographs friends and strangers, then appropriates the face—or in some cases just the eyes—from a photo and inserts it into the painting. The results have a haunting immediacy that pushes the paintings into a different realm. It’s hard to imagine this work going anywhere else since it is at the extreme already. ■

For more on the Philadelphia art scene go to theartblog.org.

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