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Convulsive anatomies

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In 1992 Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, curated the infamous Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990's. In his catalogue essay Schimmel equated the anxiety at the end of the 19th century and the work of the Symbolists --- which was imbued with an obsessive fear that reflected "the general sentiments of the society at large" --- with the art (and artist angst) of the early 1990's.

The Symbolists used anxiousness and doubt as subject matter to express exaggerated personal emotions. Schimmel went on to say that the Symbolists placed "inner vision above the observation of nature." It was a strategy of "subjectifying the objective world." Many artists in the late 20th century were also beginning to look at an invisible world, a world of an inner psyche, and did so just as the Symbolists did: by using figuration. Of course, this anxiety can be seen even earlier in the works of William Blake, who was disillusioned by England's lagging social reforms already realized in France and America.

At first look, there is something very much like a turn-of-the-century apocalyptic vision taking place in the drawings and ink-jet prints comprising Andy Gilmore's exhibition, A Dance of Dust and Flies, currently on view at A\V, (formerly the All-Purpose Room) at the Public Market. His images are, on the surface, observations of nature, but their style speaks of inner voices.

The presentation, which is reminiscent of Helter Skelter artist Raymond Pettibon's installation strategy, consists of drawings hung in groups on the wall. The drawings each make individual statements, but they are then forced into narratives because they are placed in such close proximity to each other. Gilmore's work is at times pinned or even nailed to the wall while a number of pieces are framed in recycled picture frames of different sizes, styles, and materials. The modernist grid is eroded. There no longer seems to be any rational order.

Unlike Pettibon, Gilmore's work does not include any text but his title, borrowed from Aldous Huxley, suggests dystopias and human atrocities. The drawings themselves have more in common with Blake than they do with Pettibon in their use of very fine and detailed line.

Sometimes these lines are articulated in very naturalistically-rendered figures of animals such as crows, dogs, pigs, and fish, while other times the lines are reminiscent of anatomical drawings. But the anatomies are not really bodies but the results of a surrealist strategy of making drawings in a state of reverie. These automatic drawings are produced on a variety of paper surfaces ranging from single sheets to the back cardboard cover of a notebook whose spiral spine is echoed in the convolutions of the drawing.

Although there is definitely a feeling of the obsessive, the automatic, and the spontaneous, there is also a definite strategy and style. The choice of materials and the placement of the frames are all predetermined.

Which leaves us to question if what we have here is really apocalyptic and obsessive anxiety or a calculated style. What's interesting is that, in the end, it's hard to determine. You wonder why draw a raven or twisted dog? Are these fanciful doodles, like those whimsical surfers done by Russell Crotty, that go on and on in their permutations, like the doodles in the margins of a notebook of a bored high school student? Or are they reflections of the demons of our time? Are they subtle comments of our troubled times of war and country divided? Whatever they are, the drawings are definitely worth the time to look at and ponder.

The only thing that disappointed us were his nauseatingly blurry inkjet prints which do little justice to the wonderful drawings. After seeing the drawings, who would want the prints, that only vaguely remind you of those detailed and, at times, convulsive and brilliantly psychotic gestures?

A Dance of Dust and Flies: The Drawings of Andy Gilmore is on display at A\V: Art-Sound-Space, 8 Public Market (second floor), through October 23. Hours: Thursdays 7 to 10 p.m., Saturdays 12 to 9 p.m., and Sundays 12 to 5 p.m. 423-0320, www.avspace.org.

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