Arts Desk

Pussy Riot and Pixellation in a Parallel World: Ben Tolman’s “Fiction” at the Fridge

cautionUpon viewing Ben Tolman’s tightly compact, illustrative drawings, words like "meticulous" and "methodical" spring to mind. Fastidious details, like the alternating textures of tents against a sullied patch of terrain in Camp or the careful fidelity rendered to the backhoe loader in Hole, are emblematic of the D.C. artist’s style and apparent to viewers who have followed his work over the last decade.  But this new body of work is a departure from his large-scale cityscapes or his mystical, surreal figurations. The repetitive, 10x13” vertical format of these 35 drawings, at the Fridge through June 1, emphasize the human experience above site and the subtle use of metaphor in place of a laden Boschian imagery.

A steady horizon line links each work to the next, and consistent elements unite the series as an imaginary world that’s parallel world to our own. Nude figures proliferate along the crosshatched earth, each bodily form individualized but faceless. Unaware of their lack of clothes, they carry tote bags, purses, and backpacks; a tongue-in-cheek poke at our dependence on accumulation despite our ultimate impermanence. The sites of these images are simple spaces of reference that stage emotive identification with the anonymous figures, as in the neon orange construction zone of Caution (top). Titles are so obviously related to content that the viewer cannot be led into a heady analysis; rather, the titles convey a situational mood that fosters both acknowledgment and ambiguity.

galagaTolman’s work is replete with visual analogies of the hopes, frustrations, and phobias of the contemporary world, but only a few works mirror the events of that world in a concrete way. It’s not clear whether Performance, an homage to Pussy Riot’s recent imprisonment, is celebratory or critical of the collective’s popularity. The members of the group, donning their famous brightly colored ski masks, stand out against black-and-white fans rushing to take photographs as the women are beaten with batons by authoritative figures. Half of the works are rendered in Tolman’s signature stark black ink on white paper, but halfway through the exhibit, rich tones of watercolor or gouache begin to highlight locational markers, objects, and people. Galaga (above) is a nostalgic tribute to computer technology’s visual influence, while other works critique its obfuscation of reality. In Shooter, a faux-pixelated and foreshortened gun barrel, pointed from the viewer’s perspective and onto a crowd of panicked and bloodied figures, offers the most blatant commentary in the exhibition.

Resistance to authority, as in the unassuming family facing a foreboding presence in Police Line or the nonsensical gestures of ritual in Procession, is the loudest theme here. Tolman’s work is indicative of a now well-developed interest in visual media that’s outstretched their relegation to non-art status or a particular subculture, media with an investment in linework, like tattoo or graffiti art. The Fridge’s programming includes outsider forms of expression that support resistance to power hierarchies, whether societal or artistic.  Tolman effectively integrates street forms and illustration into an original visual idiom that offers thoughtful critique; a subversion that is both playful and provocative.

tolman

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Comments are closed.

Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...