I recently paid my second visit to the William Busta Gallery. Busta is one of those cafeteria-style spaces where several shows—about 6 in this case—run concurrently. The artists shown represent, no doubt, an attempt to cast the widest possible net. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t find a Corot, a Philip Pearlstein, or even a Robert Smith there, but given its stated scope—contemporary artists working in NE Ohio—the artists are an eclectic group. The quality, as might be guessed, covers a broad spectrum as well.
The show that caught my eye during this visit—Timothy Callaghan’s Life Slow Still—was in an inner room. As with many cafeteria-style galleries, visitors have to meander through several shows before getting to one of interest. The conjunction of exhibits differing in style, goal, and quality can be disconcerting, as was the case here.
I first caught sight of his paintings from another room and immediately became impatient to abandon the show I’d been browsing. Callaghan’s paintings are fetching when seen from afar. He has a strong sense of color and the harmonies created by broad, mostly unbroken color areas, are a delight to the eye. From a distance, his paintings reminded me of how Fairfield Porter balanced seemingly haphazard (but oh-so-calculated) arrangements of unbroken areas.
(Porter was the Gatsby of American painting: the handsome preppie with his sweater casually thrown over his shoulder playing with a tennis racket and grinning grinning grinning.)
Seen closer, the heavy influence of Pop artists—especially Alex Katz—is apparent. Like Katz, Callaghan’s focus is on giving economic expression to objects; trying to find an efficient method of saying something. Katz denudes his subject of everything extraneous until he transforms it into an icon or symbol. Callaghan’s treatment isn’t nearly as single-minded. His approach is much more casual, more Porter-like. He also retains a painterly concern for the mark or gesture, which Katz lacks entirely—if he ever had it.
The painterly mark or gesture is a primary concern. Many passages are successful short-hand characterizations of the object that work well in isolation and within the overall design.
Unfortunately, most of the paintings are marred by clumsy and confusing passages. Painterly areas are cheek-to-jowl with hard-edge passages. Callaghan acquiesces to the postmodern, media-quoting space that’s standard fare these days, but in a timid way. Unlike his mentor Katz who plunged into the postmodern space whole-hog, Callaghan only dips his toe into it. His paintings borrow heavily from artists who play with the real-virtual dichotomy, which is—let’s face it—ancient history by now.
Callaghan’s paintings are remarkable for being fetching when seen from afar but disappointing when viewed closely.
The photos are mine but the works are copyright Callaghan et al.