JTF (just the facts): A total of 6 large scale photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are unique pigment prints, made in 2011. Physical sizes range from 42×32 to 47×34. This is the artist’s first solo show in New York. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Travess Smalley is out exploring the undefined borderlands of what we used to traditionally call photography. Using neither camera nor darkroom, he has instead married a flatbed scanner with the digital manipulations of Photoshop, pushing aesthetic boundaries by capturing, editing, printing, and cutting in a never ending circle of iterative digital collage. What separates Smalley from the growing legion of slick Photoshop jockeys and their crisp digital mashups is his incorporation of the tactile and the physical, or more broadly, his innovate way of connecting the immediacy of authentic texture with the power of software in a kind of lo-tech/hi-tech hybrid.
The cut paper abstraction has always been a staple of art school photographic experimentation, but Smalley’s version of this studio practice is dynamic and multi-layered rather than muted and static, less about the nuances of falling light and more about the action of repetitive stratified creation. Construction paper is Xacto knifed into arcs and angles, then arranged and scanned, the process leaving behind tiny ghosts and shadows like the edges of photocopied zines. Color and pattern run the gamut from fine gradients and tight repetitions to expressive gestural lines and swirling psychedelic blobs. Gritty grainy texture is always present, no matter how frenetic and complex the compositions get – there is always a sense of being grounded in some kind of physical reality, even when highly engineered modifications are taking place. Piled into layer upon layer of overlapping, obscuring forms and then flattened back to one plane by the scanner, the works have a vitality and energy that isn’t often associated with cut paper photocollage.
In these works, Smalley is testing the limits of modern photographic image construction in smart ways. Instead of falling into the trap of being satisfied with the capabilities of the ubiquitous digital environment, he has found a way to reintroduce the rough and hand-crafted back into the conversation. His abstractions combine contrasting elements of perfection and imperfection, never letting one side dominate the other.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $13000 each. At this early point in his career, Smalley’s work has no secondary market history, so gallery retail is really the only option for those collectors interested in following up.