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Obsolescence: A Photographic Series by Max Collins at Ro

From Max Collins's "Highway Series."

True Grit

First the venue, Ro, which if you, the cultural signifying public, have not yet visited, is a vintage home furnishing and accessories store holding down the corner of Breckenridge and Elmwood. Since changing its name from Re-Imagine last year to Ro—Scandinavian parlance meaning something like calm or serenity—the shop continues to display local artists who have taken the bit in their teeth and mounted their work in a specialty retail enterprise.

Currently the photographer and wheat-paste muralist, Max Collins, presents sepia-tinted photomurals on mire-like treated wood slats and lengths of board hung proximate to industrial-strength chairs and tables, gleaming barware, and wire baskets on wheels. There is an elegant synchronicity to the pairing of these stark scenes of over- and underpasses with the serious intention of the furnishings.

Collins is able to register in the viewer the fleeting immediacy of loss, whether in a photomural of a beloved gorilla from the Buffalo Zoo to questioning the continuing relevance of superhighways.

It is his labor-intensive art process—the way the work is presented either slathered by brush in wheat-pasted photo enlargements on paper open to the elements, or in his interior wall art, the studied fabrication of the assaults of grime and time—that for viewers moves his work to a three-way intersection contemplating obsolescence, entropy, and post-avant sensibilities.

In the way of the Japanese Zen concept of wabi-sabi—appreciating the old, the ordinary, the flawed, broken, the uneven—there is a place for retroscopic introspection.

Collins scenes are cropped views of Buffalo’s infrastructure girding the city—images isolating the reticulated roadways and snaking overpasses that decades past made for quick flight to outlying suburbs. The contrast of structure and sky highlight the architectonic choreography of the built environment in an even glaze of grime and grit sealing the image like the crickets and scorpions in blocks of acrylic for sale on an nearby tabletop.

Recent exhibitions of a number of artists invested in the aesthetic of “debris” point to a renewed enthusiasm for repurposing “the lost and found” both in natural and manufactured product. It is an exacting skill to select and place disparate elements together, find a compelling conjunction, and elicit a viewer’s emotional response.

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