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Review: Katy Cowan: Art about art, with a playful side

Katy Cowan, "Double Still Life," 2015.

Katy Cowan, “Double Still Life,” 2015.

(Brian Forrest / Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles )

A lot of artists make art about art. Someone is always examining the conditions of the studio, the exhibition, art-making itself. All this navel-gazing can be yawn-inducing, but in Katy Cowan’s hands, it’s fun. Her exhibition at Cherry and Martin irreverently mixes high art tropes with construction materials, photographic techniques and a craft sensibility.

The sculptures -- chunky vertical sandwiches of rough plywood cutouts -- are the strongest pieces. “Double Still Life” consists of two such constructions: identical, stepped silhouettes of a bottle surrounded by fruit. One is roughly colored in semi-realistic brights; the other is all gray. It could be an underpainting, or perhaps a shadow. Together, they cheekily pop a still life painting into three dimensions, but they also dissect, with crude glee, the layering that undergirds the illusion.

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Wall works similarly refer to gestural abstraction but involve photographic processes and sewing instead of the artist’s hand. Cowan coats fabric with sun-sensitive paint and places objects like two-by-fours on top, leaving them out in the sun. The results are wobbly verticals Xs haloed in sunset colors. Some also incorporate sewn panels and use turmeric as a soft yellow dye. This approach tethers abstract imagery back to the real world: humble materials, homespun crafting and the sun. The studio, Cowan suggests, rather than a crucible of angsty brilliance, might be instead a space for experimentation and play.

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Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 559-0100, through Dec. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cherryandmartin.com


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