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Devon Dikeou, Robert Heckes, Christian Schumann
by Terri Friedman
The titles from a recent group show at Postmasters read like a list of corny or poignantly romantic top 40 hits from 1974--a tender moment between complete strangers... desert landscape (apache trail)... leave the driving to us... happily ever after... frog... bonut. According to the press release, the exhibition at Postmasters, including Devon Dikeou, Robert Heckes, and Christian Schumann, was a "three person show of four paintings, two carpets and one armchair in the front gallery." At best, that's the theme of a group show; at worst, it's a description of the interior of a corporate lounge. To credit the curatorial decision though, the show's lack of a "title" indicates that it was not of primary concern to create a specific relationship between the three participants. But what soon becomes apparent are the more obvious connections that the artists do share. The individual pieces in the exhibition are engaging. The common thread between them seems to be a shared sense of repetition, geometry, and grid. Although conceptually diverging, each artist does, directly and indirectly, incorporate narrative and storytelling.
Devon Dikeou's once upon a time... and happily ever after... are interactive examples of the kind of embellished narrative that arises when "yarns" are respun. once upon a time... is a floor piece (a la Carl Andre) comprised of 14 pressplate metal ceiling tins forming a gridded metal carpet. Complementing the floor piece is happily ever after..., a chair upholstered with the same metal ceiling tins. Unlike Schumann's or Heckes' work, these pieces invite interaction. If the viewer walks across the metal floor or dares to sit in the chair, an imprint of their visit is recorded by the indentation that remains. As Dikeou depicts, "acting as a membrane, the ceiling floor and ceiling chair connect the gallery with the viewer's action or non action (walking, sitting or abstaining). This ultimately creates the art through the consequence of the viewers action, and the necessary destruction of... once upon a time, and preservation of happily ever after...." The destruction of the fairy tale is inevitable in our non-fairy-tale world. Dikeou weaves a yarn, story or tale only with the aid of the viewer's participation or non-participation. In the same vein as many oral storytelling traditions which include the teller and the told, Dikeou's tales are interactive time travels in the visual and experiential realm.
Although Dikeou's work more directly addresses fairy tale and storytelling, both Christian Schumann and Robert Heckes create narratives and weave their own yarns both figuratively and literally. Unlike his paintings which are layered and richly woven stories and surfaces, Christian Schumann's carpet, a tender moment between complete strangers--because of carpet's intrinsic limitations--weaves a much different tale. A very upbeat, fresh, and colorful conglomeration of images and moments, the carpet intermingles such disparate images as a woman's face, an airplane, faux wood, two zeros, the word "SUNNY," the title and more. Though incredibly ambitious and impressive, the handmade rug lacks a bit of the discovery process and humanity of the paintings. Although it is more graphic and contrived than his paintings, it is not dissimilar, thematically or structurally. The carpet retains the same collaged quality as its painted counterparts. What is missing though is the confident and bold doodles and energetic layering of his paintings. But, comparing carpets to paintings is probably not the most reliable comparison, because Schumann's transcription of paint stories into "yarn stories" is actually quite inventive.
Other inventive stories are woven in Robert Heckes' canvasses of collaged backs of playing cards. Both in desert landscape and leave the driving to us (winter palette), Heckes has collected numerous decks of those playing cards we often see in kiosks or trading posts throughout our travels. He collages and overlays the multifarious images on the backs of the playing cards onto canvases to create folk-like narratives. Reminiscent of work we've seen, (i.e., Tony Berlant, folk art, or even regional artwork we might find while on vacation), the main challenge that Heckes' work faces is getting past the familiar into more uncharted territory. Like the other two artists, Heckes is an investigator of the world and the materials that surround him. Unlike the other two artists where what you see is what you get (i.e: metal pressplate = metal pressplate, or carpet = carpet), Heckes both displaces and reinvents the material world. The function of playing cards is now transformed into picture plane. And, that which we give little notice to--namely, the backs of playing cards--becomes the subject matter. The pieces might suffer from "smartness," or being merely formulaic (one liners) if they weren't so ambitious in scale and quantity (multitude of playing cards).
Like Dikeou and Schumann, Heckes' pieces are very physical experiences. They allow the viewer to enter into the picture plane or walk across metal pressplates and delight in the medium and the narrative. To the benefit of the viewer, all three artists are cautious not to tell too much. The pieces leave a lot up to the imagination of the viewer. As a result, the tales that are woven are generous and open-ended.
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