JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space (divided by a zigzag wall). All of the works are inkjet prints, made in 2014 or 2015. The prints are each sized 42×63 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: James Welling’s new photographs are full of active investigations of structure – the structure of space, the structure of movement, the structure of color, and the structure of photography itself. They’re curiously intellectual pictures, almost regardless of their effervescent blasts of bright color, intent on systematically exploring the boundaries of digitally intermingled imagery and the iterative scaffolding that holds those fragments together. While visual chaos seems to spill from these overstuffed frames, it’s the most intentional and controlled chaos we might ever expect to encounter.
While multiple layers of imagery were often sandwiched together using several in-camera or darkroom exposures in the old analog days, Welling’s new pictures are something akin to a digital hack, placing different images into the separate RGB color channels of a single Photoshop file and allowing them to be collapsed together. By starting with black and white source images, Welling was then able to add color to the constructions at will, and used the software features to bring forward and send back portions of the imagery in the stack to reorient the compositions.
What’s fascinating about where Welling’s images end up is how they balance opposing forces. Human scaled and body-centric images of dance rehearsals (from sweatpants practice and improvisation to costumed fine tuning) are woven together with the hard edges and machined geometries of modern architecture and the unruly wildness of wooded winter landscapes, and finally mixed with colors that wander from sleek saturated sharpness to mottled softness. It’s as if each picture offers a matrix of artistic choices, and the best of the finished works find harmonic resonance in the contrasts and juxtapositions.
The tension in these pictures largely starts with the interior and introspective nature of dance, which is then brashly relocated outside the studio and into conversation with banks of windows and concrete walls or thickets of underbrush and new growth forest. This inside/outside conflict of both style and space is most elegant when a pointed toe, an elongated leg, or a gestural outstretched arm meets the geometries and angles of facades, patios, or even a Calder sculpture in a downtown plaza, or the spiky lines of weeds in the snow of dense clumps branches in the woods – the fragmented dancers move like ghosts in these unexpected surroundings, bringing light motion to places with deep roots and solid foundations.
In terms of color, Welling has gone much farther with these compositions than he did with the tints of his Glass House series. These colors unabashedly move toward neon and psychedelic electricity, and pastels in a vibrant rainbow fill in both the positive and negative spaces at the detail level. By building up the images from monochrome forms, he’s been able to use the full force of the layered tints without worrying too much about unhappy mixing and muddying – all the hues stay crisp, even when he deliberately uses gradients to swing from one range to the next. In a few works, it’s almost as his tools have enabled too many degrees of freedom, as assaulting colors start to overwhelm the important interplay of the underlying photographs.
In the end, many of these works feel so intent on their construction that they lose sight of the lyricism that would have made them great – they’ve wandered into a bit of overediting, when they might have been stronger with a few less turns of the various knobs. But that said, these works are part of expanding continuum of photographic innovation that Welling has been pushing on in the last several years, investing himself in the critical task of finding the fulcrum points of these new digital art-making powers. He is aggressively testing and experimenting with more velocity and thoughtfulness than most, and these works (and the lessons they impart) will likely be the starting point for yet another iterative vector of out-of-the-box thinking.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $35000 each. Welling’s photographs have been become more available in the secondary markets in recent years, with auction prices ranging between roughly $2000 and $35000.