Brendan Fowler: Shipper in Jail/Ads for New Album/Six Sets @Untitled

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 works, hung unframed against white walls in the front and back galleries. The 4 works in the front room are silkscreen on archival inkjet prints with lumber and plexiglas, all made in 2013. Physical dimensions range from 97×49 to 123×55 and all of the works are unique. The 4 works in the back room are silkscreen on archival inkjet prints, with silkscreen on frames and plexiglas, again all made in 2013. 3 of these works range in size from 48×45 to 50×49 and 1 larger work takes up an entire wall at 75×235; these works are also unique. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Brendan Fowler’s newest works follow a direct progression from some of the aesthetic ideas found in his earlier projects, so much so that if you aren’t clued into the backstory of his career, they might seem more obtuse and impenetrable than they actually are. Working as both a musician and a visual artist, Fowler has been steadily mixing the two mediums using his own brand of alchemy, employing improvisation to solve visual problems and adding sculptural elements to ads for his band. The result is a series of multi-layered works that may have begun with photography but have ultimately ended up somewhere entirely different.

Fowler’s tour posters promoting his new record start with the usual visual elements: a symbolically catchy background photograph and some overlaid text, with label, venue, and other logos down at the bottom. What is different here is that Fowler has enlarged the posters past normal paste-to-the-wall size and iteratively played with them as elements of more complex sculptures. He inverts them, tilts them at angles, and places them the under plexiglas, undermining the original premise and turning the posters into abstractions. Geometric two-by-fours are added to the brew as a three-dimensional element and plywood backing intentionally peeks out from the edges, creating additional vertical lines that echo the lines of the lumber. In the end, the posters are transformed from ephemeral slap-ons to sturdy constructions, interrupted and decorated with angular forms, reflections, and physical depth.

Many of Fowler’s previous works started with photographs of his studio practice (as well as images of flowers, mirrors, and other items) and joined them together in violently crashing piles, with multiple framed works heaped together and literally colliding, smashing the protective glass and tearing the images. These works had elements of photographic narrative and conceptual juxtaposition, but were then upended by the destructive performance, the pictures left frozen in the middle of the messy jumble or blocked by the backs of rough canvases. New works in the back room take these ideas to their limit, covering the photographs (and frames) with washes of black and purple paint. What was once an image-dependent story has now become a monochrome void, the narrative literally blacked out. The colliding planes, jagged glass, and rough edges remain (as does their bursting vitality as objects), but our ability to discern any context has been frustrated, leaving us with the simple physicality of the materials and their wild spontaneity.

Setting aside the jokes about the bad shipper who has smashed the frames and ruined the images, I saw Fowler’s new works as fitting into a larger trend of exploring what happens when the legibility of photography is reduced. His approach is active, and physical, and sculptural, but he is asking some of the same underlying questions about how photography is transformed if its ability to convey information is blocked or occluded. What can we learn from a fragment, a snippet, or the ghost of an image? And does it still hold its power to communicate if it is erased, disrupted or destroyed? I think these are smart questions, and Fowler’s burly, tactile answers extend the conversation in more unconstrained and unruly directions.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced based on size, with all of the works in the front room and the three smaller works in the back room priced at $18000 each; the only exception to this rule is the largest piece in the back room at $35000. Fowler’s works have very little secondary market history, so at this point, gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Triangle Books (here). Softcover, 200 x 200 mm, 40 pages, with 30 color photographs. Includes an essay by Hervé Bize in English ... Read on.

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