‘Digital Ruin,’ by Peter Bennett; aluminum sheet stock and acrylic enamel
In an assembly that is at once challenging, aesthetically diffracted, and oddly comforting, the Maine artists Peter Bennett, Heather Chontos, and J.T. Gibson unite their work at the breathtaking Corey Daniels Gallery, the Wells art house built on a plot half in the world of regional antique culture, and the other firmly in a modernist fantasia.
Minimal and elegant, JT Gibson’s installations and sculptures evoke patience, rhythm, and sensibilities that feel decidedly non-Western. He works in bronze, steel, wood, and aluminum; his pieces mounted on the walls and freestanding in vibrant, rustically shaded paint. In a series titled “Rack,” many appear as if devolved from function and form. Their figurations make no nods toward anthropocentric utility, and instead are fully subsumed in the ballast, power, and curvature of their own identities. The many iterations of “Rack”—saying that title alone should tease out some of the works’ latent masculinities—seem to exercise similar rhythmic schema despite their figurative variations. Many are tall, slender beams forged into elegant depressions and planes. Beyond, Gibson meditates in other poses: with a diptych of two near-identical, cherry-red concavities blur the monstrous and serene, or a triad of glossy, metallic surfaces refracting the light of the room. They demand little and seem to resist the notion of accolade; still, they’re fantastic.
Rhythm is not a factor in Heather Chontos’s large oil paintings. Their dysmorphic, highly abstracted markings seem to skip along the registers of representation—at times they seem like odes to Katherine Bradford’s marine paintings; others a little like Philip Guston. Few are immediately likeable, though that’s hardly here nor there, and in an environment like the CDG, so lavish and agreeably tinted in nostalgia, that only amplifies their curiosity. While the other work in Install 5 may seem like exercises in perfectionism, Chontos plays her hand more boldly. Her works are fearless advances toward the smooth, intuitive planes of pure imagination and artifice, uninterrupted by gulfs of representation or realism. The hard-to-swallow color palette becomes endearing after spending time with a Chontos piece, while her gestural restraint, often manifested in wispy paint streaks across whitespace, is provocative.
The cold, hard, surfaces of Peter Bennett’s framed sculptures may give them the impression of being conceptually impenetrable. They’re not, of course, but given the nature of the material, you may hurt yourself trying too hard to peel the layers back. Through precision mathematics and palpable wonderment, Bennett assembles thin, sharply cut aluminum sheet stock onto a backdrop of acrylic enamel, creating brilliant metallic fugues that rise up from their surfaces in taut expressions of tension, inclination, and narrative. The specter of Western industrialization is fully present, but so is modernist inquiry in all its forms, most explicitly in Bennett’s engravings of single, out-of-context words and numbers into the surfaces of his aluminum. Growing in size, stature, color, and ambition, Bennett’s work seems to be embarking on the transubstantiation of raw human inquiry and cultural experience into a cold, hard, some-might-say completely mechanical form. Like all the work here, it goes well beyond the simple trick of making meaning from nothingness, seeming instead to highlight the necessity for artists to use what tools they can to resist those dualities from setting in.
INSTALL 5 | paintings by Heather Chontos + sculpture by Peter Bennett + J.T. Gibson | at the Corey Daniels Gallery, 2208 Post Rd, Wells | 207.646.5301