Nolan Tredway’s first solo exhibition at RNG Gallery titled Sciamachy, is complex, and more than a bit complicated.
Sciamachy as a noun is defined as “an argument or conflict with an imaginary opponent.” Sciamachy defined as an exhibition is a bit harder to nail down, and maybe that is the point.
Nolan Tredway, functioning like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, is the man behind this surreal curtain. Communicating through obscure and obvious references, these paintings of “dreamscapes and sociopolitical commentary” act as active and passive reflections/reactions to the invisible enemies of societal change. Most of which are infused with as much political satire as cuteness.
Within Tredway’s visual place-making mission, there is a coherence of color, form, and theme. Humanoids inhabit a seemingly normal landscape, but there is, generally, a strange otherworldliness that complicates these initial views and references.
References throughout the exhibition are lost and gained only to be confused with additional juxtapositions added along the journey. For example, “lost canyon” is a large oil on panel rendering of three large bees flying through a flattened magenta canyon, each carrying a hooked and suspended humanoid from their backs. The only element alluding to the actual breadth and depth of the canyon is a river of colorful dots flowing below the bees.
It is a snapshot such as this where the viewer is let into Tredway’s sciamachy. There are so many unanswerable questions. Is this a reference to society’s environmental destruction where pollinators are taking their final revenge? Or did Tredway just happen to go into a sugar coma while eating a box of Laudrée macaroons?
As viewers, our mental struggles play as much into Tredway’s prompts as his own. The entire gallery experience is a fitting atmosphere for Tredway to show this body of bizarre paintings. Situated adjacent to the renowned Dixie Quicks, the smells and audio from the restaurant bleed into the gallery. Music such as the Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter” adds to our understanding of the paintings. It takes these otherworldly paintings and forces them into a reality.
“It’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away…” poetically grounds five cutout monsters in business suits. Flanking the east wall, these Monster’s Inc-esque cutouts ask if, perhaps, these are the CEO’s controlling Tredway, or are they in jurisdiction of the landscapes featured in the paintings? Are they the queen bees?
Tredway’s exhaustive and comprehensive effort did include moments where his concepts seemed too forced and surfaces too overworked. Specifically, the high gloss resin covered paintings on the south walls. These smaller paintings, such as “in a sense” appear as superficial vignettes.
Covered with reflective resin, I can only imagine a “see-yourself-in-them” attitude, which is either less forceful or too forced in comparison to the other larger works. The tactile nature found in most of the paintings was masked with uninspiring results.
This is not to say that all of the matte paintings were a grand slam. A painting such as “cocooned” combined an Yves Klein sponge relief reference with colors straight out of Hobby Lobby’s “Home Accessories” aisle.
This painting whose cuteness appears as one of those, “that would look great over the sofa, honey” instead of the other more impactful works seen near the entrance of the gallery. But, then again, those Hobby Lobby colors could be seen as politically fueled. See opening remark.
At the entrance of RNG Gallery sits one such potent painting. Standing in a pond of water lilies is presumably a member of Pussy Riot. With some of the more overtly political references, outside of the monsters in business suits, this painting has an intentionality and directness addressing the current social and political landscapes.
The back of the gallery does include one of the more conceptually fulfilling moments of the exhibition, but it’s an element that could easily be missed. There is an oil on panel titled “cosmic latte vs. eigengrau” where worlds collide. Dissecting the title, cosmic latte is the average color in the universe and eigengrau color is commonly referred to as “visual noise”.
Both of which are interesting in contrast to the actual painting of a young person with a long tongue wearing a white fox (dog?) hat in an oddly lit forest. This scene is all fine and dandy, but what is most stimulating is the way the painting encounters the gallery wall.
The painting wraps the panel and covers the edges. While this is nothing to write home about, in the context of this exhibition, these works, this artist and that title, shadows are key. The painting becomes an object casting a shadow. The gallery lights from this world create the shadows on that world. The imaginary opponent (the painted world) is in conflict with this world. Where is the conflict resolution team to settle this dispute?
After lapping the gallery, I got it. The artist is certainly present, and his motifs are solidified. There is a sense of vulnerability spewing from the paintings. The set of paintings, when viewed in totality, are a personal journey. One that we are at times invited to, while others are asked to be silent observers. We get a glimpse into the artist’s head, but are sometimes told, like Forrest Gump, that we “can’t sit here, seats taken.”
Tredway treads an interesting pathway weaving stories, conflicts and arguments for imaginary opponents. References, like the details of the paintings, are blurred. Nevertheless, like the season three finale of “House of Cards”, I simultaneously wanted more while already knowing what would unfold next.
Nolan Tredway: Sciamachy is on view at RNG Gallery through April 04. RNG Gallery is located at 157 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs. For details, go to dixiequicks.com/category/rng-gallery.