Road work

Eric Irving’s iconic ‘Mono*liths,’ and more
By GREG COOK  |  July 9, 2008
IMG_5860INSIDE.jpg
A LAND ODYSSEY: Irving’s #5860 — 5/21/2006 8:05:02 PM.

“When they first started doing the construction these things just started appearing,” Eric Irving tells me about the T-shaped highway support columns in his dramatic new set of color photos at AS220’s Main Gallery (115 Empire Street, through July 27). Hammerhead piers is the technical term for them. They would support the relocated I-195 highway in Providence. After work, Irving would stop along Allens Avenue to photograph the concrete “monoliths” in the evening light. Standing alone, without a covering roadway deck, they read like uncanny totems.

Urban construction and demolition have become some of the primary themes of Providence art over the past decade or so, as artists watch the redevelopment of the city, and gritty mills that held small businesses and art studios were demolished and shiny shopping plazas rose in their place.

In one of Irving’s photos, a thicket of rust brown I-beams stand upright against a blue sky. Horizontals are provided by the back of a highway sign at right, the curving arm of a streetlight, and a soft gray cloud that floats behind everything. In another shot, a gray concrete hammerhead pier stands bathed in rosy evening sunlight against blue sky and gray clouds. The bottom of the picture is grounded by a horizontal band of gold grassy highway embankment and cars whizzing past.

Irving’s compositions bring to mind Stephen Brownell’s paintings of I-beams and highway support posts that were exhibited at AS220 in May. Both artists isolate construction elements to create simple geometric arrangements. But Brownell’s streamlining stripped the forms of the rugged character that comes across so strongly in Irving’s photographic details. Irving shoots the massive columns from below, framed against the sky, which gives them an iconic, heroic cast. There’s something about the T shape of the piers, as the Cranston resident captures them, that brings to mind whales fluking.

And then there’s that romantic late day light. In #5860 — 5/21/2006 8:05:02 PM, a hammerhead pier stands centered in the frame, flanked by two round columns, and framed by horizontal bands of dark clouds at the top and stones at bottom. The pier is pocked and stained; rebar fringe sticks out the ends. But across the middle of the picture, soft pink clouds billow. It adds up to a majestic, maybe even holy moment, like the end of a Hollywood Western or some epic religious flick.

Also at AS220’s Main Gallery are graffiti-style paintings by Mark Doyle of Connecticut and assemblages by Tim McCarthy of Providence. Doyle seems to still be figuring things out — his imagery feels random (a dude with a mullet kneeling to pray, a bald guy holding a cat, a farmer with a pitchfork and a glass of red drink), and his renderings awkward. McCarthy’s assemblages are happily indebted to Robert Rauschenberg, as evidenced by Remembering Rauschenberg, which includes a metal American flag, rubber tire, whistle, photo of cowboy, loose gritty red paint, and other odds and ends. The effect is appealing, but modest.

Sarah Clover and Jen Daltry of Providence are showing work at AS220’s Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, through July 27). Clover presents cast iron and glass sculptures. I like her iron seashells and lacy doily patterns emerging from iron plates. They say something about time and age and the elemental transformative power of fire. But a table arranged with lace, bones, rusty washers, glass jars, and feathers could be any generic goth altar.

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