A few blocks from Yale’s campus, in the enormous brick building complex that stretches down Audubon St., lies the Silk Road Art Gallery. It’s a small but open space, with display stands of ceramics for sale interspersed between comfortable chairs. Sets of Chinese ink brushes hang around pillars in the center of the space, and every wall of the gallery is hung with paintings
The current show at the Silk Road Art Gallery, titled “Of Another,” juxtaposes the work of two artists connected to the Yale School of Art; current MFA candidate Mauricio Cortes Ortega, ART ’16, and MFA graduate Karen Dow, ART ’98. The work of both artists deals in abstraction, considering the use of color and form, but in strikingly different manners. Dow’s work feels balanced, taking equal measure of the material and the composition. Ortega’s work is far more chaotic.
Dow’s artist statement, available in the gallery, speaks to her work’s harmony. She writes: “Painting and printmaking have always been a balance between responding to the materials I am working with and the intuitive knowledge of how to build or compose inside a square […] I add and edit, recognize relationships, build support for a shape that appears too heavy, while continually hoping to keep the painting open and breathing.”
Ortega’s work is much more frenzied than Dow’s, with textured lines of brightly colored paint cutting across the canvas in some works, and petal-sized smears of oils appearing in others. In many, the oil paints have been applied with tools normally used in cake-decorating, creating thick, rounded lines which draw to mind images of puffy-paint decorated souvenir t-shirts. Ortega selected the colors of the paint, as well as the styles, in reference to traditional Mexican textiles. The play between these different allusions seems to speak to the artist’s interest, expressed in his artist statement, in exploring ideas of “the tattered history of colonialism, conquest, and crossing.”
While Dow’s work considers an equilibrium, Ortega’s artist statement details how his work “explores and questions the intricacies of the moment of crossing that can describe what came before and define what is to come.” These ideas of physically and emotionally experiencing a crossing are heightened when considering Ortega’s personal history, as he immigrated from Northern Mexico at age nine.
“Of Another” is an unusual show for the Silk Road Art Gallery, which usually aims to draw connections between more traditional Eastern artistic methods (such as traditional Chinese brush painting) and contemporary Western work. Originally, I was informed at the gallery, a show had been scheduled to display the work of Ortega alongside that of a Chinese artist. However, when the Chinese artist had a large, successful show in China and was unable to provide work, the gallery then turned to Karen Dow, an artist with whom they’ve had a longstanding relationship.
While “Of Another,” in displaying the work of two Western artists, does not create the same dialogue the gallery usually aims to create, there is a clear discourse between the works nonetheless. The division within the gallery space—Ortega displayed along the left, Dow along the right—allows the viewer to focus on the work of each artist in isolation, and yet it also creates a space for interaction between the works, for a greater consideration of the ideas of balance and crossing. Many works in the show reference physical spaces and the act of crossing in their title: Alien Landscape Round Horizon, or Passages (4). The act of crossing is evident in Ortega’s works, as the play between texture, line and color forces the eye to move rapidly about his canvases, never settling easily in one place. But just across the gallery space, Dow’s paintings create a meditative atmosphere, with their softer colors and repeating rectangular forms. The juxtaposition of Dow and Ortega’s pieces allows for them to work in dialogue with one another, creating an experience for the viewer that inspires constantly shifting and moving without ever leaving the space.