And the Unseen Colors Erupt

Mikey Kelly and Jen Pack

SLATE contemporary | 473 25th Street, Oakland, CA

January 9 - March 27, 2021 | Hours: By appointment - book online or email

SLATE Contemporary’s upcoming exhibition, And the Unseen Colors Erupt, features paintings by Mikey Kelly and textile sculptures by Jen Pack. While working in different mediums, both artists pursue the optical and emotional impact of color and line to create work that is on the one hand bright and bold, and on the other, full of detail and minimalist restraint.

Jen Pack builds three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional sheets of fabric, many of which are made by the artist sewing strips of other fabrics together, in a process akin to micro-quilting. Breaking it down further, Pack also works with the basic element of thread itself, a material that expresses itself in one dimension (a line) two dimensions (a fabric surface or series of lines in relation to one another) and in three (when threads hang free-form in space, refusing to adhere to the two-dimensional surface they are attached to). Another way that these soft forms take on a three-dimensional presence is by wrapping around a sculpted hollow wooden structure, toggling between solid substance and negative space, tension and release, hard-angles and free-flow. The artist enjoys this kind of play, because it balances masculine and feminine approaches and thus challenges not only the notion of sewing as “feminine craft,” but also the already ambiguous distinction between fine art and craft. 

In Mikey Kelly’s paintings, space is more of an illusion. Made with hundreds or thousands of overlapping lines set at radiating and diagonal angles, these works can appear almost machine-made at first glance, and the assumption is partly true. Kelly has developed a system using poly-alphabetic ciphers and numeric algorithmic systems that allow language-based input to be translated into a directional code that dictates the angle and color of each layer of lines that make up a painting. Once coded, he simply follows his own set of directions, using a rig in his studio to position his straight-edge according to precise measurements and angles, having no idea how it will look until it is completed. By automating so much of the process, Kelly reduces the artist’s role to a set of preliminary decisions (What text will be put into the system? What language will it be in? Which ciphering system will he use to encode it? Which colors will each number represent? Which materials will be used for the substrate and pigment? What kind of tool will he use to apply it?). But when it comes time to actually execute the work, he himself is somewhat automated, run by the decisions he has already made and by the system of directions he has created. And yet nature and humanity persist in the irregularity of lines made by a tool that is hand-held, in the moments where his paint pens or graffiti markers catch the nub of a coarsely-woven canvas, and in the emotional impact of the colors combined. Accident, mood, and process are also evident in the two sewn canvas pieces included in the show, which are irreverently irregular and sport a casual unfinished demeanor that is not found in his paintings (nor in most of Jen’s work, for that matter).

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