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Painting Without Paint

Four artists explore art and consumerism.


Some of Steinhilber's work is both three-dimensional and kinetic. But even in his most sculptural pieces, Steinhilber seems to refer back to the rectangular boundary that defines and restricts painting. By doing so, he uses painting as a metaphor for the larger art world.

Take, for instance, a piece in which Steinhilber has attached a common off-white bed sheet (a reference to a flat canvas?) to two small fans. When activated, the fans create an ever-changing billowing effect, giving the illusion of something being just under the surface. The message is one of powerlessness and inconsequentiality, that the appearance of substance is in reality just the art world drifting in the all-too-powerful headwind of consumerism.

Rather than try to sail against this wind or to deny that it exists altogether, Steinhilber attempts to take advantage of it by creating his art wholly out of material that can be purchased at Wal-Mart. In one of his pieces he covers a large scale white-gessoed painting in cheap plastic wrap. Near the bottom of the painting, a single neon-orange dot (the type used for yard-sale price tags) is centered on a seam. This packaging overtly refers to art as commodity while at the same time creating an obscure, illusionary composition. The small orange dot becomes reminiscent of a sunrise/sunset in the middle of a cloudy sky.

In the most thought-provoking work in the show, Steinhilber assembles about 600 sticks of unwrapped chewing gum into one man-sized slab. I was reminded of the scene in the movie "Ghostbusters" when the monster Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, normally the object of consumerism, rose to consume New York City. This Juicy-Fruit monster is far less menacing, however. It seems to embody Steinhilber's "ah, why fight it" attitude by slouching lackadaisically against the wall.

The highly textural digital ink-jet prints of James Huckenpahler serve as a counterweight to the raw energy and conceptual diversity of Steinhilber. Each of Huckenpahler's five abstract pixel-paintings resembles eerie scientific details of what appears to be skin. The artist makes use of his advanced technical proficiency in exploring relationships between the human body and science.

The work of Joseph and John Dumbacher seeks to address the objective fundamentals of painting by obliterating any evidence of the artists' hand. In recent years, the twin brothers have collaborated on minimalist blocks of pure pigment surrounded by steel casing. This group of work is represented in the show by a single piece entitled "Line 173." There are unmistakable elements of product design in the work, and the muted earth-reds of the pigment blocks are reminiscent of lipstick hues.

In another series of work, the Dumbachers create metallic bumper-stickers from out-of-context phrases such as "goes well with almost anything," and "you can ignore all this stuff." Beneath each sentence, made up of raised-letters on zinc, is a corresponding patch of Braille. By removing these slogans from context just as they remove the pigment from paint in their "Line" series, the Dumbachers again seek to distill their art to its basic elements. S

"Align" is on view at the 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St. Through Sept. 27. 643-1708.

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