Art in Review

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Mark Spencer: Heal­ing the Di­vide

The vi­sion­ary paint­ings of Mark Spencer de­scribe the space created when op­pos­ing forces con­verge in an un­easy truce. Cre­ativ­ity is born in that space, as is an ar­che­typal land­scape that tran­scends his­tory and time, speak­ing di­rectly to the hu­man con­di­tion. It’s a land­scape peo­pled with ab­stracted hu­man and god­like fig­ures, where rec­og­niz­able forms are only sug­gested — a space where dreams col­lide with re­al­ity, and the lim­i­nal state be­tween con­scious­ness and the sub­con­scious, rep­re­sented as a bor­der­land be­tween land and sea or earth and sky, is awak­ened.

In Re­for­ma­tions, Spencer’s pre­vi­ous solo show at Nüart in 2014, he ex­hib­ited one paint­ing called Ver­nal

Equinox that seemed to ref­er­ence the bib­li­cal ex­pul­sion from the Gar­den of Eden. The work also hinted at the re­newal and re­birth as­so­ci­ated with the spring sea­son, of­fer­ing the viewer a sense of hope. As if tak­ing a cue from that paint­ing, Spencer has created a new body of work that deals with themes of bridg­ing dis­tances and tran­scend­ing dif­fer­ences. A golden brown dom­i­nates the col­ors in Heal­ing the Di­vide, lend­ing the paint­ings a sense of majesty. Hu­man en­deav­ors, as de­picted in these clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions, hap­pen in the face of nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena. Cy­clones of dust and wind swirl around fig­ures who ap­pear, at times, to be made from the very forces that sur­round them, like be­ings fash­ioned from the same el­e­ments that they strug­gle against. Spencer told Pasatiempo in 2014 that his paint­ings are “like mo­ments of pas­sage through bar­ri­ers like the ego pris­ons we make for our­selves.” Among the less enig­matic works in Heal­ing the

Di­vide is Spencer’s Pyg­malion, where a cen­tral fig­ure fash­ions his ideal love, not from stone or ivory as in Ovid’s Meta­mor­phoses but from el­e­ments more wild and un­tamed than seden­tary rock. Pyg­malion’s mas­ter­piece is born at the in­ter­sec­tion of earth and sky, half-formed and seem­ingly created by the wind, or per­haps re­turn­ing to it in the form of dust, even while the cen­tral fig­ure strug­gles to com­plete his work. Pyg­malion is an agent for some­thing that be­longs not to him but to the world. Ju­bilee, which also ap­pears to de­pict a fig­ure com­ing into be­ing, is a more mys­te­ri­ous com­po­si­tion. Its cen­tral winged fig­ure is ris­ing from a heap of what could be all that re­mains of a col­lapsed civ­i­liza­tion. Rec­tan­gu­lar shapes, like panes of pastel­col­ored glass, fall around the strange, war­rior-like fig­ure like rib­bons of con­fetti. The paint­ing pro­vides a sense of the tran­scen­dent spirit, emerg­ing from the trap­pings of the world.

Most of Spencer’s pic­tures are an amal­ga­ma­tion of ab­stract and rep­re­sen­ta­tional im­agery, but some­times his im­agery only ap­pears to re­sem­ble spe­cific ob­jects, prompt­ing a glim­mer of recog­ni­tion that is frus­trated by the ob­jects’ re­sis­tance to be­ing quan­ti­fied. The el­e­ments in Enigma, one such paint­ing, are ar­ranged in a tableau, re­sem­bling a tan­gle of bod­ies locked in con­flict. The shapes and forms are vaguely hu­man, but Spencer has less in­ter­est in ex­pli­cat­ing a spe­cific nar­ra­tive than in pre­sent­ing sym­bolic ges­tures. The idea of the de­struc­tive na­ture of war, for ex­am­ple, is sug­gested with only a few dis­tinct vis­ual cues — just a knot of limbs and de­bris, a sound­ing horn, and the re­mains of a wooden bar­ri­cade. The enigma ref­er­enced in the ti­tle is, per­haps, the bright and or­ganic cen­tral form that rises like a pro­tec­tive wall, ap­pear­ing to pro­vide a bul­wark be­tween the fig­ures on one side of the paint­ing and those on the other. The paint­ing from which the ex­hibit gets its ti­tle,

Heal­ing the Di­vide, is equally am­bigu­ous. It is one of what Spencer calls his “whirl­wind” com­po­si­tions, named for the swirling gales that be­set the land­scape, a com­mon el­e­ment in much of his work. In the paint­ing, a bulky, tree-like form rises from a bar­ren desert into the mael­strom, which is bi­sected by the thin curve of a rain­bow. A whirl­wind is a de­struc­tive force, but it ap­pears, in this paint­ing at least, to be an en­er­giz­ing one, too. Spencer’s mythic ter­rain draws its power from the vor­tex. The whirl­wind is noth­ing short of a stand-in for the buzzing mind, birthing idea af­ter idea. This is the man­ner in which I ap­proach Spencer’s works. Be­yond cap­tur­ing a sense of hu­mankind’s com­mon strug­gle as it might express it­self in the psy­che, the well­spring of in­ge­nu­ity, cre­ativ­ity, and art is en­vi­sioned here, and its lo­cus is the storm. — Michael Abatemarco

In Heal­ing the Di­vide, a bulky, tree-like form rises from a bar­ren desert into the mael­strom, which is bi­sected by the thin curve of a rain­bow. A whirl­wind is a de­struc­tive force, but it ap­pears, in this paint­ing at least, to be an en­er­giz­ing one, too.

Mark Spencer: Ju­bilee, 2016, oil on can­vas

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