Review: "Blackness: Violet Deep"
Alexis McGrigg’s Texas Tech MFA thesis exhibition “Blackness: Violet Deep” showed for only a single day this First Friday. Filling the LHUCA Warehouse space with a video work, several ceiling-suspended sculptural paintings, and flat canvas work, the exhibition finalizes a consistent set of goals throughout her MFA program, seeking and refining a vocabulary for expressing Blackness in painting.
Vincent Meyers (VM): McGrigg’s flat canvas “Used to be Boys” series hangs away from the wall on transparent cord tied to the ceiling, maintaining flatness despite being unstretched. Layers of violet paint and charcoal form the works’ atmospheric ground and, lit only by an incandescent spotlight on the floor, an unusual perceptual effect. Looking at the works lit by the spotlight, the paint’s violet appears most strongly, but when viewers step closer, casting their shadow on the works, the charcoal’s dirty iridescence reads green in the shadow’s penumbra, fading to true black in the center (where darkness prevents the eye from taking in either color).
Hannah Dean (HD): “Used to be Boys” really reduces the viewer. The scale, the absorptive use of color, and how it skirts the edges of the wall (not to mention the incredibly dimly lit space) allows the swathed canvas to blanket the space. It’s not the impressive crowding of the exhibition space that is reductive; it’s the contrast of the impressive size of the work to the absolute physical quietness of the space, coupled by the low-intensity lighting.
VM: McGrigg has approached the formation of dark/black atmospheric ground in a way that the light source and the viewer interact to decompose. Five of these works sit along a virtual wall at one end of the gallery, in each an unpainted region in the canvas’ center marks the absence of a ¾ portrait. Only the colors themselves are left to define human form implied by the untended negative space in the center. Reading these works as (highly abstracted) portraiture rather than abstraction allows for another unusual effect. Portraits exist to pronounce their subjects, with the backgrounds’ compositions and colors serving only to enhance the subjects. Here, in the absence of a figure, the ground can become an identifier of what was lost, which in turn allows McGrigg’s stated intention of portraying blackness as a diverging set of identities, judgements, and associations tearing at black people/black bodies, marking both their presence and their absence.
HD: Working with space and the idea of how black bodies occupy places is a new idea she is exploring. In reading the exhibition materials, I consider how the work relates to blackness, specifically. However, the work (to its merit) is starting to profoundly deal with space, through the three concise mediums used: installation, video, and painting. It's mature work.
VM: Looking away from her painting, her video work, which confronts you from the warehouse’s opposite wall, goes some distance toward expanding the vocabulary from her painting into a time-loop that the viewer can experience audibly and visually.
HD: In this work, she slowly traverses the planar shifts of the purple-lit and dyed canvas. The effect is a macro-micro perception for the viewer, at times you know you are looking at an object, at other times it seems as though you are peering up from a hole in the ground.
VM: In sum, she has created here a forceful model of blackness as an identity, a non-identity, pointer (identifier), and a color paradigm not monolithic, but a set of structures and actions working in concert, apart from a single notion of Blackness.
*The authors' opinions are their own.