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The City in Ruins

Work by Kyle Butler (left) and Dennis Maher (right) at Buffalo Arts Studio.

Dennis Maher and Kyle Butler @ Buffalo Arts Studio

The artworks of Dennis Maher and Kyle Butler, in a dual-artist exhibit at Buffalo Arts Studio, are about forces of destruction, in a good way.

In both cases, initially and most obviously, about destruction of the constructed environment. Reduction to rubble. Secondarily and more subtly, about reconstruction of deconstruction material, rubble, not as new constructed environment but as art.

The art of both artists is about art as construct.

Kyle Butler’s focus is on nature versus constructed environment in the sense of a barrier to nature, a wall to hold nature out, hold it at bay, which would be a definition of architecture. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, Robert Frost said, that wants it down. That something is nature.

This contest is represented in two kinds of semi-abstract paintings or drawings that have a sculptural quality due to the material solidity of the imagery, even when part of the imagery, the nature part, the destructive forces, is represented by amorphous, malevolent-looking clouds of gray vapor. Reminiscent at the moment of the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano.

The futile constructed barriers to the elemental forces are, in the one case, a flimsy lattice work of wood staves, in the other, some basic architectural forms, including a pillar and start of a fence. Symbolic barriers more than effectual anything.

Less successful are several overly literalist works depicting typhoon-like elemental forces destroying houses.

More successful again are several acrylic and oil paintings of an array of rubble bricks in a technique of oil and acrylic that gives the bricks a rather un-brick-like elastic quality, a softness, conducive to configuration of the bricks into a kind of mosaic of large tesserae, which is what the depiction amounts to. Rubble into art, in other words.

A somewhat similar piece not referenced to rubble looks like a surface breaking up into segments. A little like a solid field disintegrating. The unmaking of the mosaic.

Two handsome drawings suggest purposeful reconstruction of the deconstruction materials, but in both cases the reconstructions have a whimsical, impractical aspect, suggesting art more than architecture.

One is a kind of Cat in the Hat rickety construction. The other a kind of misbegotten project perhaps for a boat. A boat that isn’t going anywhere, as a boat or a project. The end of the line.

A joke and an irony, it would seem, because this art of destruction doesn’t look like the end of anything, but more a propitious beginning.

Dennis Maher’s focus is on the abstraction process that goes into making art.

The centerpieces of Maher’s installation are two huge rubble sculptural works: wood, metal, brick, plaster, plastic, and every other conceivable building material in chaos array in the wake of a (supposed) building demolition or collapse.

Next there are constructed photographic works, composed of juxtaposed and layered photographed bits and portions of the sculptural rubble (or rubble just like it). Collages, except that the bits and portions are not actually collaged, that is, glued, but the juxtaposing and layering is done photographically.

Then there are semi-abstract paintings of detail areas of the photo collages. These are in wash tones, with pencil sketching over the paint of salient features of the template photo collage.

Finally, detail areas of the paintings are further abstracted—virtually blanked out or blacked out—but with the relative portion of the template photo reproduced and juxtaposed to the side of the painting.

The ultimate paintings are very beautiful, not just visually but by virtue of the layers of information they contain, condense, reduce, and reconstruct.

This excellent show continues through May 29.

jack foran

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