Wallspace February 23 – March 29, 2008
Dave Miko offers perplexing painting for perplexed people, unsettling and comforting in the same tentative breath. Suffice it is to add that the paintings are quiet, unostentatious, and unpredictable, with the bulk of the show consisting of recently completed text-based paintings. The shimmering elegance of their surfaces is the result of oil paint on aluminum sheets. They are smart and clean with atmospheres of dreamy colors spilling across undercurrents of phrases and words; their poetry surfaces and fades in our minds, developing a stream of consciousness of textual stylistic shifts and intermittent legibility. Ideas peter out then suddenly spring to life in a totally different idiom–running the span from absurd to ominous. These processes and outbreaks of weirdness hold my interest without ever really revealing what the hell is going on.
All through this exhibition is a feeling of hazy dreaminess—those bleak, bright moments upon waking when language fails to form its known pattern and instead reveals itself in flashes and clusters outside our normal defenses. But lucid bewilderment is given concrete form and character through the texts mannered diversities. These formal distinctions become important tools that offer a way outside the trappings of the artist’s “real” handwriting.
In the painting “*The incoherence” (2007), the painting’s title hovers just above the bottom edge of the work, preceded by an asterisk, painted in a hot magenta in a script reminiscent of high school calligraphy exercises and engulfed by a rippling field of black brush strokes. Somehow the combination of words, color, font, and paint coalesce into a loquacious image of reflexive confusion, offering something just short of nothing in a way that seems to speak volumes about a great deal other than itself.
Meaning is still allowed to remain personal, however, as in “Air mattress” (2007). The nonsense phrases “Air-mattress,” “Air-beef,” and the truncated (by the edge of the picture plane) “Air-chicke” float around the quaintly cursive expression, “Happy Birthday Dave,” which is scrawled across a white square reminiscent of a party napkin or cake top. The pictorial situation seems to stem from a distant esoteric conversation associating gifts of air meats with an inflatable bed, in which the air chicken can only cross the road halfway because she wants to lay it on the line for Dave’s big day.
Thrown into the mix of the exhibition are two pieces the artist calls “Archives.” Each one is a smallish walnut cabinet that stands 40 inches tall with ten drawers and an empty slot where a drawer is missing. Above each cabinet hangs an 8 × 8-inch framed painting (oil on aluminum). One slowly realizes the painting hanging on the wall is an image that had been stored in the missing cabinet drawer. Pull out any drawer and you find another, different painting. The viewer is invited to exchange the hanging work for one of the alternate choices. These archives, a project the artist has been working on since 2001, are arranged in a chronological order with the oldest paintings at the bottom. The works range greatly in content and style, from the surreal and pictorial to the abstract and concrete. They are both highly crafted and incredibly fun to handle. Once you accept your role as participant in the exhibition, the burdens of trust and curatorial propositions rests on your shoulders. Changing around these small paintings imbues the wall-bound works with new meaning and resonance, a conceptual shuffling of the mental deck. Any fix you might have on this work is quickly scuttled by the discovery of a little painted rendition of the Venus of Willendorf, “The Other Venus” (2004) from “Archive 4” or any other painting, for that matter, found within these tidy domestic anomalies.
In addition to this project, Miko chooses to include selections from his “Lost Paintings” series. It’s a group of objects resembling furniture—a couple of shelves, a stool, and a bench—constructed from aluminum paintings the artist had deemed failures. In each instance the images are sanded down and the entire structure is covered in Garvey ink, a purple dye often used for cash register receipt printing. It’s a cheeky nudge to the commodity status of art and a way for Miko to rid himself of the unwanted clutter massed in his studio. It’s a cheap and ugly move that mirrors the aesthetic of the objects themselves. Some images just aren’t worth saving, but they are worth sanding and inking and screwing together into modular combinations.
That the artist is able to draw on a number of not-always-compatible genres—various styles of text, surrealist ambiguity, free-flowing abstraction, conceptualist-based installation—and blur the lines among them so that none are particularly recognizable is a testament to his restlessness and willingness to experiment. It’s strange and puzzling territory indeed but there’s just enough weight to Miko’s mojo to make it more than worthwhile.
Craig Olson is a former student of Thomas Nozkowski and regular contributor to the Rail. He is also an artist who lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.