Review: Casey Gray's "Garden Party" @ White Walls Gallery, SFIllustration // Tuesday, 30 Oct 2012
Walking into “Garden Party,” Casey Gray’s newest show at White Walls Gallery, feels a bit like strolling through a gallery of 17th century painting on acid. With bright, bold colors, shiny lacquered surfaces, and pattern upon pattern of richly layered images, Casey Gray’s paintings immediately evoke the graphic qualities of posters, skate deck designs, and graffiti. “Garden Party” blends four distinct areas of Gray’s newest work--re-interpretations of Flemish still lifes, grip tape collages, large abstract “spectrum” paintings, and smaller “snapshots” of vases, horses, and sculptural busts that seem excerpted from his larger works--to cohesively to present a larger picture of his experimentation with traditional subjects in art history through contemporary media and techniques.
By employing a variety of materials that are often closely associated with skateboarding and “street art” culture—like acrylic spray paint, frisket, and skateboard grip tape—Gray’s work creates a tension between traditional “fine art” subject matter and contemporary art-making practices. In a single image, Gray will often create spray, drip, collage, and layer paint and grip tape to create a variety of visual effects. Gray even employs the world wide web to create digital collages that serve as references for his final still lifes.
Themes of change, growth, death, and excess for which Flemish still lives are so well known are readily evident in Gray’s. In one image, a small caterpillar crawling on a stem on one corner of the painting seems to transform into a beautiful butterfly in the other corner. In another painting, Gray juxtaposes a live goldfish in a bowl with five dead fish on a platter. Meanwhile, a chain of sausage links lies strewn over a tablecloth in a bath of spilled red wine that, at first glance, looks like blood. In other images, Gray abandons traditional still-life imagery entirely; one image depicts a smoky scene, complete with a sparkling marijuana plant, smoking bong and candles, and no fewer than thirteen immaculately depicted donuts. Each image presents a different approach toward re-interpreting the still life.
And true to their 17th century references, each of Gray’s works displays a technical mastery and meticulous construction. His work with texture and color--like the illusionistic overlapping and weaving of strips of color to depict baskets or the layering of pieces to create scales on the fish makes his works tactile and mesmerizing. In his abstract works, Gray creates dizzying patterned gradients that seem to transform in color from one end of the canvas to the other without giving away a discernible moment of change. A collection of vase images displays an incredible ability to re-interpret the graphic patterning of vases from a variety of cultures and time periods.
There is no way to adequately describe the complexity and detail of Gray’s images in words. From the narrative complexity of the subject matter to the visual decadence of the imagery, “Garden Party” is, in all senses, a feast for the eyes. The show is open at White Walls Gallery through November 3rd, so be sure to check it out before it closes.