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Review: Take a look at "...the Mind's Eye" at Slein

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 10, 2009 - "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" at Philip Slein Gallery is billed by the show's curator, New Yorker Joseph Wolin, as an engagement with Abstract Expressionism by members of the Sci Fi generation. It's that, sometimes, but it's also more, a heady mix of works by youngish established artists with aesthetic intellects that were nurtured in the aftermath of 1960s and '70s counter-culture and military-industrial pop. Think Thomas Pynchon with a paintbrush -- and a few surprises thrown into the mix for good measure.

The Sci-Fi connection begins with the exhibit's title, which is taken from a 1978 novel commissioned as a sequel to "Star Wars." That book's nigh immediate obsolescence -- who, even among Star Wars fans, has ever heard of it? -- says something about the machinations of the science fiction culture industry, where ideas are out of date before they're ever current, and only the nerdiest of devotees retain the details.

And so the title is also apt for the works on display here, which possess a strange nostalgic quality, though they were all made within the last three years. This is particularly the case with works by Britton Tolliver and Oliver Warden, who both make spacey mash-ups of geometric and organic forms that would look quite at home hanging in the dorm rooms of your average pot-head Pink Floyd fan in the late 1970s. (Not that I would know anything about that.)

A conventional Abstract Expressionist sensibility is evident in works by Erik Oost and Daniel Hesidence, who appear to attack their canvases with loaded brushes and scrapes of the palette knife, leaving muscular forms and impasto topographies in their wake.

At another extreme is the work of Gordon Terry, who imbeds webbed and splotchy forms in oily acrylic fields, making for controlled, even Minimalist object-like paintings that evoke the cerebral cool of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Along these lines are the three small works by Mark Handelman, "We Never Forget Who We're Working For I-III" (2006), painted abstractions generated out of corporate advertising and military logos; they read like cinematic representations of light effects in deep space.

Amid all this testosterone emerges the exhibition's biggest surprise, the work of Halsey Rodman. His "Touch Eye Portal 2" (2008) is a hexagonal frame of swirly pinks surrounding a core of textured black. For me, it immediately evoked the early works of artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, who in the 1960s struck back at the male-dominated, hard-edged art world with their own pink geometries and central core compositions (look at Schapiro's "OX" of 1968 and you'll see just what I mean).

And though the title of Rodman's "MUST...NOT...DISAPPEAR" (2009) sounds positively Captain Kirk, the sculpture possesses clear connections to Pattern and Decoration work of the 1970s and '80s, particularly in its gentle arabesques and beautifully painted, crunched-up wads of aluminum foil.

Finishing out the exhibition is a work by Jonathan VanDyke, in which paint literally drips from pipe segments imbedded into the canvas; and two explosive pieces by Emilio Perez, which are made by cutting into and peeling back layers of acrylic and latex paint, revealing barely contained, all-over whirlwinds. Perez's works bear interesting comparisons to the handful of paintings by St. Louisan Brandon Anschultz, which Phil Slein has smartly used to augment Wolin's selection of mostly New York-based artists.

And while Wolin's well-wrought essay relies perhaps too heavily on the Abstract Expressionist angle (indeed, there are moments here where Ab-Ex is the last thing that comes to mind), he's definitely onto something, and has put together a smart survey of contemporary paintings strung loosely together by a Sci-Fi thread.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.