Though hardly a retrospective, the current offering from Modern Arts Midtown, Direct Drive, features a stimulating visual evolution of the colorfully rich, abstract work of Dale Malner.
The exhibit, which will close with a reception April 24, features twenty-one of Malner’s evocative acrylic paintings. Roughly eight of the works, mostly from 2016-2017, are on canvas, with the remainder being newer works painted on wood sheets, which are then cut and reassembled in 13 square panels.
For more than two decades, Malner of Madison, Wisconsin, has run his own business devoted to designing, fabricating and installing museum and commercial exhibits, trade shows, and other art events. His professional work involves working with a wide variety of construction materials and venues, and the projects take him all over the world.
Mainer’s extensive experience with construction techniques and materials finds its way into his work, but it is the Wisconsin woodlands surrounding his cozy studio, however, where he claims to find a consistent source of energy and inspiration for his expressive paintings.
His canvas pieces are painted on a “vinyl-soaked canvas substrate” according to the artist, “from repurposed trade-show graphics,” and often they contain preprinted designs, photos, and text. This material quite accessible due to his professional career on the trade show circuit.
The canvas pieces are large, primarily vertical rectangles, from around 60 inches to the largest, a diptych that comes in at 120 inches wide.
Most of the pre-printed imagery on the base is obliterated by thick, heavy layers of opaque color strokes. Some of works, however, show a ghostly remnant or the texture of the canvas substrate, creating a complex layered effect. This also provides an element of depth, especially evident in at least two of the works, “Organy” and “Persephassa.”
Strong vertical strips of alternating light and dark value add to the dimensionality of these two works; not providing true perspective but delivering extra depth. Each of the slightly rough, angular columns, resembling torn strips of paper, are then crosshatched with various color swipes, brushstrokes and drips, looking a bit like a forest of psychedelic birch trees. The resulting forest is dense, and alive with colors but a little menacing.
This sinister thicket in “Organy” is interrupted by a frustrating little cloud of orange, like a cartoon thought bubble; “Arrrgh!” This, and the three or four related works, are wildly raw in stroke and color, and they draw out a feeling of curiosity even if not outright inviting. The paint is laid on thick and the artist leaves no part of the canvas unmarked.
Moving on from these we come to works on the same canvas base, with the same uninhibited, layered strokes, but purely non-objective. There is only color and shape, marks that appear to be a reaction to music, feeling or emotion only. The color is only slightly less vibrant here, and there is attention to more transparency, layering and negative space than in the previous works, though substantially flatter.
Stylistically channeling elements of Abstract Expressionism, these pieces, “Sock Rhythm” as a good example, become exclusively subjective. It is a statement of feeling and like most abstract art, open to viewer interpretation.
Evidence of afore mentioned evolution comes with the 13 works on wood panel, all dated from 2019. Like the subtle differences between Abstract Expressionism (thoroughly American) and Tachisme (the French version,) these smaller works are more complex in composition, more subtle in color, more intentional in design.
Cut to fit tightly into a new design, pieces are taken from previously painted wood laminate sheets, then pieced together in a simple geometric marquetry. They are all 32-inches square.
A slightly smaller central square of about 24 inches, protruding from the plane of the overall piece by an 1/8 inch, appears to serve as the subject, with the complementary band of similar pieces arranged around the outside, becoming somewhat as a frame.
Painted in a loose, gestural fashion as the earlier mentioned works, the strokes and textures are more refined. There is more variety of application method of the paint, more transparency, and the colors are more complex; muted pastels, dense greys, and harmonious variations.
Points of interest are “Barfurush,” with its dark and foreboding cloud of deep blues; and “Isfahan,” another cloud, of grey and Ferrari red, bisected by a complementary vertical strip of rich maroon and off-whites.
Be sure not to miss the unfortunately located “Bushihr,” found at the top of the staircase leading down to the Gallery basement. A complex, optimistic dance of pastels and deeper colors, named for a port city in Iran. This piece deserved closer scrutiny, a more accessible placement.
Malner’s work is solidly entrenched in the world of Abstract Expressionism, more specifically, the emotionally charged world of non-objective, gesture painting. Though some abstract artists choose to leave their work untitled, Malner’s titles, however obscure, complete each individual piece. In most cases, though requiring a little research on our part, they secure some further direction or connection to the artist, if not to the influences behind the colors, shapes, and composition, and they provide an endpoint.
Its unavoidable to find associations with the big names of Abstract Expressionism; Franz Kline’s color work or Elaine DeKooning’s work, and some of the color field devotees. This should not deter a viewer from gleaning new insights and seeing the world through a different artist’s eyes.
Note that many of the titles especially on the newer wood panel pieces relate back to Iran, or more specifically, Persia. Many of the titles are named for cities important in Persian history, or sometimes archaic references to gods or kings. He offers the viewer only suggestion with his use of titles, but its welcome just the same.
Direct Drive, features the work of Dale Malner, with additional work by Brent Witters, Deborah Stewart, and others. Direct Drive will hold a closing reception on Friday, April 24 from 6-8 p.m. For more info as well as gallery hours go to modernartsmidtown.com or call 402-502-8737.