As exhibition titles go, “Meticulosity” is more of a speed bump than an open door or clearly marked path. The term looks familiar but sounds odd. It compels us to slow down, proceed with care.
“We tried to stake out a word that’s not commonly used, so people wouldn’t bring a fixed meaning to it,” explains writer and independent curator John David O’Brien, who organized the group show at Otis College of Art and Design’s Ben Maltz Gallery with director Meg Linton. “Meticulosity” is an antiquated term for “scrupulousness,” with origins in the Latin root for “fearful” -- a nod, write the curators in their manifesto-like catalog essay, to the urgency and meaning that are at stake in the art they’ve gathered.
“Meticulosity can frame the ideas behind the work and the process the artists use, a weaving back and forth between solutions,” says O’Brien. “We describe it as a meditative process. It’s a painstaking exactitude.”
The show, which was scheduled to open Saturday and runs through July 7, features 11 Southern California-based artists working in a range of media: painting, digital collage, stone sculpture, altered textiles, installation, photography and video. They span several generations, from Samira Yamin, not quite 30 and yet to have a solo show, to Arthur Taussig, who has been exhibiting since the ‘70s. Their work engages subjects across the spectrum from the personal to the political. What they have in common, according to the curators, is an approach that tightly fuses the visual and the conceptual.
Much art throughout history would fit this description but less consistently so the art of the last 40 years. The rise of conceptualism in the late ‘60s tipped the balance toward art that is more about crafting ideas than objects. The increasing academization of the art world and the shift, among many artists, to a practice that involves actions outside the studio rather than objects made within it, have reinforced that notion of divergence: beauty headed in one direction, brains another. Either/Or. “Meticulosity” makes a case for And.
Hilary Brace is represented by a selection of charcoal drawings on polyester film. Her exquisitely rendered images of clouds, caves, clefts and atmospheric surges invoke both internal and external realities, landscapes and mind-scapes. Luminous and sublime, they certainly satisfy the curators’ mission to feature work, according to O’Brien, that “bowls you over, takes your breath away, takes your words away.”
The show raises important, pertinent questions about how such work is perceived — and misperceived, Brace says. “Even if your goal might be to make a transcendent visual statement, it’s hard work and a long process. You’re in a space that’s focused on goals and on problem-solving. It’s dedication and struggle, being angry with the drawing and fighting with it and taking it step by step until it arrives at that place.
“If you ultimately want to make something that exists beyond words, you shouldn’t assume that you’re in a nonconscious, nonintellectual space while you’re making it. There’s so much confusion about this, and it points to the misunderstanding there’s been about visual statements, that they’re devoid of intellect.”
It’s naive to regard work of the hand and the mind as separate or, worse, contradictory, says Brace, who is based in Santa Barbara and has exhibited widely since the ‘90s. The relationship between the twin engines of creation is far more complex than that. In her case, technical precision and specificity are means that serve an elusive end. “This is closer to how people experience the world. Even though we can’t know it, we try to know it. We can only try. The work becomes a metaphor for that effort to know what we can’t know.”
In an art historical moment when the slightest of gestures and the most provisional of marks can merit acclaim, the contributors to “Meticulosity” stand out for their devotion to detail, however long it takes to achieve it.
“There is a different sense of time about this exhibition,” Linton says. “There’s a sense of real labor, especially with people like Elizabeth Turk.” In Turk’s recently completed “Infinity Column 4,” sinuous, loosely entangled ribbons of marble rise to form a porous 6-foot shaft — calligraphy turned to stone, smoke in suspension. “The vibrations of the tools she works with reach into her own bones. She thinks about how long she’s physically going to be able to make her work. And she’s making something durable into something fragile, so there’s the question of the durability of the work, long-term.”
The others in the show — Tanya Batura, Eileen Cowin, Linda Hudson, Gegam Kacherian, Sandeep Mukherjee and Linda Stark — also favor labor-intensive, intricate modes of working, whatever their medium.
Ross Rudel likens “Cosmos,” the installation that he’s been working on for the last two years, to a time capsule. The cube, 8 feet per side, rests on a base that is pitched at an extreme angle so that the interior evokes the gravity-defying phenomena occurring in a mystery spot in the Black Hills of South Dakota, near where Rudel grew up. Rough on the outside and highly finished within, the room contains five objects that originate outside of it and are visible through a portal. Each, he says, relates in one way or another, to time.
There’s a tiny carved hawk that appears frozen in space, like the one Rudel encountered on a run in Griffith Park. There’s a light fixture that seems to levitate, “like it has some invisible musculature,” and a tilted, pigmented plaster stalagmite inspired by accretions of pigeon and great blue heron droppings. He’s affectionately dubbed it the “poop column.”
There’s also a water feature.
“Given the reality of the room, it’s possible to give the perception of water running uphill,” he says. “I wanted it to run slow, so we’re using mineral oil, and it’s going to be a slow-motion uphill creek that you’ll see through a hole in the floor.
“I spend a lot of time in nature. That’s my spirituality, and that translates well into the studio. The objects in there are like ceremonial devices.”
Their function? To push the pause button on the speedy pace of life.
“What I aspire to do is to get someone out of the flow for a while and slow down, make someone conscious of the moment, and that slows time. Those are weird terms to talk in these days,” he admits.
With immediacy and instantaneousness so highly coveted today, is creating art involving such time and meticulous care a radical act? Is it an act of resistance?
“I think so, yes,” O’Brien says with a laugh. “It’s a very radical re-acquisition of a value we once called beauty. Now I’d prefer to call it extreme presence. It’s an effort to recapture some of the intuitive, the inexplicable, alongside the intelligible. You can talk about it as much as you want, but you’re not going to be able to reduce it to a set of words.”