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Zach Boehler's Painting at Big Orbit Gallery

Zach Boehler's paintings are at Big Orbit Gallery through Saturday, September 3.

Wave The White Flag

White flags are prominent motifs in Zach Boehler’s artwork at Big Orbit Gallery, which consists mostly of paintings that are basically representational, but with an area or areas in each painting of smudge and smear, in contrast and counterpoint to the main representational subjects.

The main subjects are often portraits, faces. In addition to the paintings, there is a series of ceramic sculptural faces masked like bank robbers in cowboy movies, but with white crocheted material in place of the bandanas the cowboys would have used, and a possibly related series of portrait photos in which the faces are mostly concealed under diaphanous dark fabric.

And here and there are references to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and the so-called “Lost Generation.” But more verbal than pictorial references. Such as the title of the exhibit: There Has to be Another Way Out of This F. Scott—a sentence and sentiment that would be clearer with a comma after “This,” before “F. Scott.”

The artist is at pains to show a parallel between the Lost Generation and the current generation, based on a parallel disillusionment. Or in the case of the present generation, not that we are disillusioned so much as “over-illusioned,” the artist explains in a written statement, due to constant digital-world stimuli, resulting in a similar “lack of meaning.” He doesn’t get much more specific about the matter than that.

White flags appear in some of the paintings and in a huge sculptural installation altar in the center of the exhibit space. White flags traditionally mean surrender. But not in this case. Again, as the artist explains in his written statement, “The white flags depicted in this show are not a symbol of being beaten, they are instead a call to take action and free ourselves from the society that has forced unfounded mediocrity onto our shoulders.” Sounds a little paranoid, for one thing. Nor does it seem that Hemingway and Fitzgerald would have accepted the term “mediocrity” as descriptive of, applicable to, themselves, their work.

The white flags that show up in the paintings seem to represent generalized protest or political revolt, but it would be nice, especially for purposes of a “call to action,” to more precisely identify the enemy, the nature of the current generation malaise. More precisely than as a “lack of meaning.”

Possibly the smeared and smudged areas in the paintings are intended to represent the “lack of meaning” supposedly at the heart of the malaise, but they seem as much an indulgence in the malaise as a representation of it.

This is able enough painting, in an attractive, unlabored-looking style, yielding a number of fine capsule narrative works—one of a young man and female companion heading off on their bicycles, another of a man imbibing, glass in hand, the only artwork that seemed unequivocally to relate to the Lost Generation idea—and some admirable portraits. The individual paintings do fine on their own. Just that they don’t seem to demonstrate or even much support the heaviosity sociological thesis. They are overburdened by the thesis.

By the thesis and the scattershot nature of the (putative) demonstration. In addition to the altar and the flags, and the smudge and smear paintings, and masked ceramic faces, and faces under fabric, and verbal (but not so much pictorial) references to Fitzgerald and Hemingway, sporadically arranged among the visual art are placards with slogans or observations that seem more bewildering than illuminating. (And seem to lack any reference to either the art or the thesis.) Statements such as “Your version horrifies me,” and “Once we have died they will claim we were happy.”

The Zach Boehler exhibit continues through September 3.

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