Review: Transformed Conversation with Chaw ei Thein and Brad Darcy
Burmese artist Chaw Ei Thein’s striking installation, “Bed,” anchored the smart gallery space, doubly occupying prime retail space in front of Soapbox’s front windows. The title is simple, but the make-up and context of “Bed” require some navigation in the heart and mind of the individual. “Bed” is, well… a bed, made of rows upon rows of upside down, glossy, bright red bell peppers, surrounded by mosquito net, topped with a black pillow and enveloped in a small room of black walls, curtains, floor, and ceiling. A single bulb hangs over the bed, tossing light off the curvy, sumptuous vegetables.
In a conversation with the artist, Chaw explained the multiple levels of meaning behind the piece. Being from south east Asia, she associates red and peppers with spice and heat, and so a bed can represent the same (steamy sexual encounters for example). This viewer, though, associates red bell peppers with sugar and sweetness, so I get an entirely different vibe. In beds, too, dreams and nightmares happen, and love making and forced sex also occur. Restful and restless nights are spent in beds. In short, there’s much to ponder with the simple presentation of a bed.
The red of the produce is bold, and against the blackness of its surroundings the color pops—it is appealing to the eye no matter what you associate with the vegetable. The mosquito net is protective, when closed it keeps the occupants safe from those nasty buzzing insects. Yet Chaw kept the net open… is that to entice? Or to reveal that protection can’t always be guaranteed with the presence of so-called protective material?
What’s more, there is no preservative applied to the peppers. They remain bold and attractive now, but as the month progresses, the peppers will crinkle, shrink, rot, ending in a less-than-appealing, smelly compost heap. The impermanence of rest? Of steamy love? Of food and sustenance? Of sensuality or fear? Of…?Numerous emotions and questions percolate from Chaw’s work. “Bed” is a meditative piece that was difficult to leave.
New York-based sketch artist Brad Darcy took a different tack with a series of blown-up sketch paintings accompanying a digital video. The silent video looped blurs and swirls and political imagery (Obama comes up, and I seem to recall Gorbachev making an appearance). The digital blips and mixes shift suddenly as if the television had just been struck by lightning.
But Darcy’s artistry really shines on the walls. Evolution is the underlying idea winding its way through Darcy’s sketch work. His canvases are a striking mix of bold lines tracing abstract figures of faces and human forms against a backdrop of an indescribably appealing orange-red balanced by grey-checks. I had the privilege and pleasure of standing with Darcy while he flipped through his sketchbook, displaying his spontaneous moments of creativity, working through subconscious themes until POW! The images that land, that resonate most with his underlying theme of development (evolution in his work, thinking, humanity) end up (blown up) on the canvases punctuating Soapbox’s walls.
Darcy admitted he doesn’t imagine himself as a painter. He’s at home with his sketchbook. I admit that I was immediately taken by Darcy’s color schemes and bold abstracts on canvas. I would happily hang any (all) of his works in my own home and get hours of pleasure from their subtle energy. As a sketcher, however, most of his material can only be revealed to a select few. I personally hope he’ll continue to take his most inspired drawings and blow them up for the rest of us to enjoy.
Kudos goes to curator Nunu Hung for finding two disparate artists working in opposite mediums, but who bring freshness and relevance to the New York art scene. I look forward to more of her shows.
Transformed Conversation runs at Soapbox until March 18th. www.soapboxgallery.org.
Shaun Randol is the Founder and Editor of The Mantle, as well as an Associate Fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York City.