Outward and inward

By GREG COOK  |  August 6, 2014

VISUAL FIREWORKS Barnes' 'Sacred Meditation Triptych.'

At Yellow Peril Gallery (60 Valley St #5, Providence, through August 24), Toby Barnes of Amherst, Massachusetts, aims to explore the “sacred in everyday life” in “Altared States.” He writes, “I hope to prod my audience to engage with these practices in their own lives, practices that bridge with very human concerns with seeking affirmation, wanting adoration, commemoration and memory.”

A native of Miami of Thai-American heritage, he frequently begins with photos of Hindu and Buddhist traditions — the shrines or table decorations. He also uses photos of hissing cobras, nubby rubber balls, and architectural details. Barnes reworks these images digitally, often mirroring them for kaleidoscope effect. He prints them and on top seamlessly paints hovering graphics that look like anime robots or flying icons or calligraphic script. Rhyming the traditional ornament with contemporary computer graphics results in a wondrous too-much-muchness.

Then he adds more — laying out on shelves or on the floor in front of the paintings actual cups, bowls, bells, string, a coconut, oranges, fake flowers, soda bottles filled with vivid, candy red fluid. They don’t have the futuristic elements of the paintings, instead evoking home shrines or ones you might find tucked into a corner shop.

Barnes’s most elaborate installation is Sacred Meditation Triptych, with three paintings of what might be exploding totems or important crests. His photographic foundations here are apparently shots of the materials to make a shrine that he photographed on a monk’s cart. In front of these photo-paintings are blue tables displaying fake flowers, incense, and electric candles.

I’ve seen shrines like Barnes’s sources, but I don’t know the fullness of their meanings. Here, I’m seduced by the riots of colors and patterns and reflections, the awesome visual fireworks. His setups seem to be waiting for someone to come use them and, in doing so, activate their meanings. They’re patient, quiet, solitary, and private.

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