Installation view of 'Arthur': (L) Eddie Martinez, 'Cloud Flower,' 2020; (R) Sam Moyer, 'Untitled,' 2020. (Courtesy Ratio 3)
Objectively, I know that looking at art on a screen is no replacement for the physical experience. But over the past five months, I convinced myself I was getting at least an approximation of the thing. With my powers of looking—so well-trained, so good at reading material lists!—I was doing an okay job, I told myself, at imagining a physical artwork in three-dimensional brain space based on nothing more than its flattened digital image.
Then I went to Ratio 3 to see Eddie Martinez and Sam Moyer’s Arthur, and I was humbled.
You see—or you will see, if you make an appointment to stop by the Mission Street gallery—Martinez and Moyer’s two-dimensional artworks are not exactly two-dimensional. They’re textured, luminous, rough-edged and layered. They blow their digital selves out of the water.
The biggest shock to my self-confidence came from the show’s opening piece, an untitled wall work by Moyer. In it, two flower-like arrangements of fractured gray marble sit against a golden field of painted canvas.
Oh, I thought. Marble! Prior to my visit (and based on cursory web-browsing), I presumed I would see flat canvas, a uniform surface that held no surprises. Instead, Moyer’s canvas stretches over MDF that’s been cut to accommodate the irregular marble shapes. They nestle perfectly into their enclosures, the narrow gaps between gray stone and sunny canvas hinting at secret methods of affixing and unseen joinings of materials.
Being wrong was thrilling. What else had I glossed over that I could now experience in person? In Martinez’ works on paper, it was thick chunks of oil paint. His marks of erasure—white paint over dark lines—work almost too well on jpegs. In person, you get to see what’s covered.
And the arrangements. Even installation images can’t capture the feeling of seeing Martinez’s Snakes Take, a patchwork head of brightly colored squares, on a wall next to Moyer’s series of fused glass pieces. It’s as if Martinez’s painting has been broken up into its constituent parts. One glass work, a soft-edged, bubbly and molten-looking combination of red, black and blue, even features a checkerboard pattern, a pattern also seen in Martinez’s recurring head motif.
This is the first time Martinez and Moyer, who are married and live in New York, have shared an exhibition. The show’s title comes from the name of their child, born in September last year—a collaboration of a different sort. A pairing of any artists forces viewers to draw connections between the two, but in this case, the artists also share a life.
And yet this particular pairing works well, beyond the novelty of a family show, because their work is so different. Where themes and similarities emerge—like between Snakes Take and the glass works—it feels like a reward to close looking rather than evidence of one artist’s influence over the other.
Martinez’s works on paper and canvas are full of bold motion, thick brushstrokes and evidence of a laundry list of materials. One painting from 2020, Bird Whiteout, is made from oil paint, silkscreen ink, oil bar, enamel, marker, foot print, pencil, push pins and canvas collage. His pieces push and pull at legibility through abstraction. A tennis ball is plainly visible in And Sports, but in Bird Whiteout only a cartoonish parrot is truly identifiable on the large canvas.
Moyer’s work, on the other hand, is much more restrained and orderly. But it’s not so restrained or orderly as to eliminate all possibility of chance. The glass works are a testament to this. Careful arrangements enter the kiln and emerge less precise, colors blending into one another and surfaces expanding with bulges.
In the marble and canvas pieces, Moyer balances the cool slices of stone with regular brushstrokes in muted tones of white, blue, green and gray. The pieces of marble are the off-cuts of other people’s projects (kitchen counters, bathroom floors); some bear measurements and labels on their edges. Moyer’s own marks answer those utilitarian bits of residue; she lines one canvas with washy horizontal stripes, another seems to mimic the veining of the stone it notches into.
In the last room of Arthur, a long line of 12 framed works on paper hint at the push and pull of Moyer’s own process, one that uses cut-outs and patterning to carve up and map rectangular space. Nearby, an untitled painting by Martinez depicts three people at a table, one slightly smaller than the others. It could be two parents and a child.
Not as many people will get to see this show as likely would have before the pandemic. Perhaps more will see it online than in person. But those are different shows entirely. The distance between the two is vast, a whole dimension; I encourage as many as possible to traverse it.
‘Arthur’ is on view Saturdays through Aug. 19 at Ratio 3 (2831A Mission Street) by appointment. Details here.
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