Jeremy Blake, Oct. 20-Nov. 24, 2001, at Feigen Contemporary, 535 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
If you only give Jeremy Blake's digital animations a few minutes of attention, you might mistake them for an animated history of 1960s Color Field painting. But there's more to the story than that.
Blake packs a lot of ambition into a little colored light, with references that range high and low, from the utopian ambitions of post-war Modernism to the hip lifestyle choices represented by '60s décor. His latest exhibition at Feigen Contemporary in Manhattan's Chelsea district includes ten small drawings, three largish digital C-prints and three projected digital animations on DVD.
The three DVD projections, in particular, make a big impact, turning the gallery's large main space into a theater of nostalgia, futurism, spirituality and decay. Brightly hued patterns appear, mutate and disappear, sometimes invaded by film clips. Digital doors open and shut in the middle of an abstract landscape of pure projected colors, accompanied by ominous soundtracks of creaks and crackles. Architecture, nature, drugs, war and psychedelia are evoked.
Chemical Sundown, the projection on the right, begins with colored stripes oscillating and blurring against a pale blue background. The screen divides. Dots enter at the bottom, change texture and turn into doors that slide aside to reveal blurry ellipses that clarify and slide away. Blue and yellow horizontal fields appear and turn grey. A target materializes. Its red center protrudes, doubles and turns orange.
In an inset film clip, taken from Casino Royale, a woman in a pink evening dress stands on a rotating bed (also pink) surrounded by mirrors as pink feathers rain down upon her. The clip fades, returns and fades again. A huge array of small blocks appears, like a city seen from the air. Clouds of color come and go, blurring and clarifying -- dark blue, yellow, pink, green, turquoise. The effect is like having your nose in a rainbow of noxious unnatural beauty.
The three animations are separate works, and not necessarily meant to be seen together. Chemical Sundown is a 16-minute loop, while the others are 12 minutes long. In this presentation, the film on the right never appears in the same combinations with its neighbors. Bridget Riley meets Morris Louis (with overtones of Pucci) in the central projection, Mod Lang, which features large ribbonlike stripes of orange, blue and olive green twisting and turning against a background of pale blue. On the left, Berkshire Fangs exhibits a more menacing palette of deep blues, briefly interrupted by a pod shape containing footage of a gothic building in flames.
In his digital photos, on view in the smaller front gallery, Blake uses a pronounced horizontal format that gives him lots of decorative room. In the center of No Mirrors, are beautiful tantric pod forms, textured as if painted on a grainy rec-room wall. On either side, luscious aqua rectangles recede into the background. Above are tiny pale ovals surrounded by faded halos. The bottom of the space seems lost in mist. Horizontal stripes dappled with blurry grey shadows on either end complete a glamorous and melancholy composition that coalesces into what could be a deserted tropical office, dimly lit and obscured by reflections.
Blake departs from his usual esthetic with The Slick Rhoades Story, a series of ten small drawings made with pencil, pen, gouache, glitter and collaged digital photos. Meant to serve as conceptual storyboards for his digital animations, these works are drawn in a style that blends cartooning with fashion illustration, sometimes accompanied by handwritten words. Blake obliquely outlines a story of an accident-prone, brain-damaged young British druggie who takes up visionary architecture in Southern California.
Among the images in Slick Rhoades are a vertical row of three small blue circles with blurry red hearts in the center, a young man smoking, a building, a long-haired young woman with rabbit ears, a pack of cigarettes, some pills spilling from a container, a pair of teeth surrounded by pink glitter lips and two books: a biography of Werner Erhard, the founder of Est, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
This motley collection provides an expanded context for the artist's streamlined digital animations. Blake seems to be pulled in two directions. On the one hand, he seeks to create moving paintings, with the tactile sensuality of paint replaced by the hard smooth screen and tiny pixel dots. On the other hand, he can't resist telling a story. I left the exhibition ravished, but confused, wondering what will happen next.