Approaching from an extreme angle, near to the wall of the gallery, it can look as if there is almost nothing there at all. The thin, shaped Alupanel pieces are only 3mm thick - near to seamlessly merging with the walls. Walk round and face them front on, however, and a world of color, shape, and depth unfold before you: impossible, tantalizing, enthralling.
Building on his Mindspace series, Metcalf brings a body of new work to Transparency using a similar format while teasing out a new dimension for exploration. In both series, Metcalf uses the thin Alupanel (aluminum sheets sandwiching a plastic core), painted with acrylics, cut into geometric shapes. Mindspace played with the creation of depth on a two-dimensional surface, using color value. A cut-out panel of connected parallelograms could suddenly take on the effect of an Escheresque set of stairs, with the viewer falling into the space created only by changes in color. The effect, of course, shimmering and shifting, because it resided only in the viewer's mind.
The works of Transparency build on the fundamental principles used in Mindspace, but eliminate the underlying orthographic projection lines, making transparency both the primary affect and effect of these pieces. Here color takes on a whole new quality of translucency through the precise mixing of acrylic paints. It is the relationships between the colors that affect the viewer's sense of layers, shadow, and the effect of transparency. What at first appears to the eye as a painting rendered in three colors (such as Days End) is, in fact, six colors, painstakingly mixed so that when they are arranged in a particular relationship to each other, the mind sees light, shadow: transparency.
The new work in Transparency comes as a culmination of five decades of exploring and questioning painting as a visual language. Despite his early facility with drawing and painting, Metcalf found himself seeking a more personal and innovative way to work. The question of "Can I do something different with painting?" led him on a journey through abstract expressionism, painting on three-dimensional objects, and eventually through a decade as a monochrome painter. At this point Metcalf began his work painting on translucent polyester fabrics, which continued for 18 years. These fabrics offered the ability to move past the "limitations of pictorial space," as Metcalf created three-dimensional constructions that use volume, light, color, and shadow as part of the shifting mystery of his paintings allure.
Visually, Transparency appears as nearly a direct successor to the Polyester pieces - with its creation of volume through the illusion of transparency. However, this time, Metcalf accomplishes this feat using only two dimensions. As Metcalf says, "The history of art is best represented by a circle, not a straight line. Follow that history long enough and you end up right back where you started." With these new works, Metcalf has embarked on a new balancing act: merging the Modernist sensibilities of flatness and non-objectivity with the (conceptually paradoxical) "traditional" post-14th century use of paint to create an illusion of light and space. However, it is interesting to note that by foregrounding illusion in the works of Transparency, Metcalf is effectively forcing the viewer to grapple with it as a concept, rather than blindly accept it.
A final unique element to the works of Transparency is that Metcalf has given them titles (rather than numbers), something he hasn't done since his Abstract Expressionist period. The titles, sometimes whimsical, sometimes oddly descriptive, are provocative, serving as a kind of tangential point of reference within the mind of the viewer as they wrestle with the visual paradox before them.
This paradoxical conundrum belies the clean elegance of these works' deceptive simplicity. Days End, for example, presents an opaque black rectangle, overlaid by two overlapping transparent rectangles, gray and pale brown. Edge of Reason shows two deep red rectangles overlaid with a transparent orange diamond. Blush is a black square, overlaid by a larger, transparent, broken square in rose pink. It is almost impossible not to see the darker, opaque shapes as projecting up through the overlaying ones; to see the blackness of Blush's square shadowing the pink. Metcalf even incorporates the whiteness of the wall into the illusion.
With Transparency, the sense of depth, of light falling through layers, of objects below casting shadows (the way a fish swimming through a wave creates a dark shape within translucent green water), creates an almost inescapable illusion of space that simultaneously challenges and enthralls.
Michaela Kahn, Ph.D.
Contact gallery for further information: 505. 989. 8688
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