Dan Devening, KIOSK at the Tarble Art Center, Eastern Illinois University
January 17 – March 9, 2014
2013 is being canonized as abstract painting’s comeback year. In the past twelve months, Newcity alone has featured more than fifty articles related to abstract art and artists, and while this past fall’s EXPO Chicago was packed with painterly condo décor, the good stuff is getting harder and harder to find. Perhaps that’s why you’ll need to sojourn downstate to see one of this winter’s most compelling investigations of contemporary abstraction.
In “Kiosk” at Eastern Illinois University’s Tarble Arts Center in Charleston, artist Dan Devening—longtime professor of painting at SAIC, founder of Devening Projects + Editions and one of the minds behind the recently opened West Loop space Paris London Hong Kong—presents a series of twelve untitled colorful and loose (but decidedly conscious) abstractions that probe the limitations of conventional structure and illusory space.
Disembodied brushstrokes, curious snippets of text, half-tone patterns and visual non-sequiturs suffuse this focused exhibition. Though these gestures typically butter the bread of trendy “provisional” and “casualist” painters, they are, in the hands of Devening, anything but. The artist’s embrace of collage evidences careful deliberation. It’s as if Devening, not content to bandy about a brush with fingers crossed, locates the perfect spot where a stroke of cadmium red achieves maximum impact and rather than quickly dash it off, he stifles his impulse, applies the paint to an additional sheet of paper and then later glues it in place, pushing visual tension to a near breaking point in the process.
The eponymous “Kiosk” is a spindly wooden structure from which dowel-like arms protrude. It provides a unique support upon which several of the artist’s works-on-paper hang. Serving as both a piece of freestanding sculpture and a mechanism of visual dissemination, “Kiosk” creates an area of intriguing material uncertainty. Refreshingly, Devening tackles three-dimensional problems of space, balance and gravity with consideration equal to his two-dimensional collages. Despite its slim proportions, the artwork’s thoughtful arrangements project an aura of surprising weight and volume. With the speed limit on I-57 recently increased to seventy mph, you’ll be there in no time. (Alan Pocaro)