Chauney Peck at Gallery4Culture

Artweek Dec./ Jan. 2009
by Elizabeth Pence

It seems insufficient and slighting to describe an artist’s work merely in terms of abstraction and representation, and that perhaps opens one of the defining discussions in contemporary art as it has settled into the Northwest. What Harold Bloom has described as the “Anxiety of Influence” (also referenced by Howard Singerman in a 2003 review of Laura Owen’s work) may be more porous in the part of the country, the space allowing artists the expansion necessary to provide an ineffable element in their work. To define a network of characteristics surrounding art production in any area would undeservedly provincialize it, but it does seem that work circulating through Vancouver and the Northwest often has a stake in aesthetic territory just beyond the liminal edge, such as Eric Eley’s expansive and indeterminate fields and Chauney Peck’s dissonant layering of form. Seattle’s innovative venues provide circulation for this kind of production, notably Gallery4Culture, the exhibition space for King County’s Cultural Services Agency, where Peck’s newest work was on view in the fall of 2008.

Peck makes precise vinyl cutouts of detritus generated around urban spaces; abandon couches, handmade shelters or curbside evidence of a recent move (or break-up). As emotionally charged public spaces, these are customary sites/ sights and can be seen as a catch all for contemporary anxiety. Peck renders these weathered monuments in a kind of vernacular structuralism without and of the original object’s grimy immediacy. Treating detritus as inherently found material, Peck refers to these as “monuments of fleeting visibility, the end of a mass produced product, that was something more intimate, and now a ready-made sculpture of our daily lives”. Her mosaic of visual perceptions provides the viewer with numerous points of attachment within a formally inventive and cryptic arena, where rugs and plants, a bedroll, a broom or a loveseat, can coexist with the ambiguous elements and scraps of her compositions. Moose Blanket (2008) integrates a Merzbau-haus treatment of a handbuilt street shelter in the assorted fabrics making up volumes arrayed as a flattened, estranged frieze with Matisseian cutouts. Its conjoined perspectives call to mind the spatial terms of vastly different practices and works of artists such as Cezanne and Manet, Julie Mehretu’s spectacular and complicated analogues and the essays on temporality produced by Joachim Koester in his photographs of the terrain vague.

Perspective, composition and color are often theorized as subjective. In David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, (Reaktion Books, 2000) he discusses a “fear of corruption or contamination through color” that has been “lurking within Western Culture since ancient Greek times”. This idea is pertinent because of a legacy of consistent efforts to marginalize color, to describe it as other or supplementary or to attempt to define its nature as anti-rational or subjective. The aesthetic terms of Peck’s work are somewhat paradoxical in that they stress composition and bright color (even flat battleship gray has voltage here) but are empty of subjectivity. Peck’s approach to her subject matter as “urban monuments”, lends a sense of autonomy; there’s a unified sensibility around form and color an the vernacular imagery based on found (rather than diaristic) material, lies within the domain of the everyday, the random or arbitrary placement of objects. Love Seat (2008) includes the evidence of casual repair as well as stains (that one pristine spot on a piece of old upholstered furniture that engenders the memory of its newness), manages the weathered edge of spontaneity and intention. Although painterly in nature, the work features incisions and composition rather that brushstrokes or mindless aggression masquerading as expression. Pristine and exacting, these incisions create the detail, shape and volume that gives the work a definitively intentional sense.

Like the mid-90’s work of Monique Prieto, the bold, even color Peck uses emphasizes the outline of shapes. In Peck’s language of abstraction, this strange terrain that may appear as an unstable formal space, more accurately described as an inventive decontextualization, borrowing equally from real and imagined space. Moose Blanket (2008) and a work not shown in the exhibition titled Foam Pile (2007) evoke similar operations of form and representational space as Prieto’s work, where thinly painted and vibrantly colored shapes are arrayed in such a way as to suggest ambiguous relationships between them. There is an unnamable quality about these works; Peck consistently pushes at the conditions of objects and form. A superb colorist, she moves the formal terms of objects around such that the works relate to the objects the represent, but are simultaneously indeterminate. Flagship (2008) is a schematic structure reminiscent of the tattered remnants of canvas clinging to discarded stretcher bars.

Subtle conflicts arise where Peck maintains the object’s aura of functional use, but separates out and smudges specific references that tie the image to its former use. Like the sense one gets when walking past houses and seeing fragments of the life within: Peck, in her work, describes something of this interior life through a sense of involvement with objects both celebrated and forgotten.