Art Interpreted: Let’s talk about size

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Minh Le

In art, sizes do matter.

It’s a given that the scale of an artwork can dictate the effect it has on the viewer. Swinging to the extremes of the pendulum, in many instances, is a cheap trick to create a strong first impression. While that may be true, scales also have the power to either give a subject its context or blur the lines and retain the abstract integrity of an artwork.

“Scale Shift: Large and Small Works” art exhibit highlights that interconnected relationship between the small and the large and offsets the balance between the surplus and the subdued. Spanning the feature wall of the Siegel Gallery at Iacocca Hall, the exhibition features pairs of artworks with similar motifs, colors or compositions that vary extensively in scale. Abstract art makes up the majority of the larger artworks. The smaller ones are images grounded in reality — almost self-effacing in their quietness, and therefore deluged within the infinite quality of their larger companions.

In particular, Deborah Almeida’s blown-up painting is highly interpretive: a simple billow of red paint can be, erotically, a smear of lipstick or, brutally, a splash of blood. At a closer inspection, its amorphous nature becomes even more jarring next to its comrade — a miniature angiogram by Hector Mendez Caratini of retinal hemorrhage, a disorder in which bleeding occurs in the back wall of the eyes.

Similarly, Richard J. Redd’s oil painting Thanatopsis, is juxtaposed with a photograph in black and white of Sucia Island in Washington by Michael A. Smith. The former’s dusty shades of baby blue, terracotta and muddy lilac are mutated to appear like tore-up layers of yarn, which bare an exceptional resemblance to the crevices of eroded rocks in the latter.

The natural landscape, albeit smaller in size, takes the magnified shape of Redd’s textures as if Redd were to zoom into the photograph and then zoom out onto his canvas. The artwork juggles with the viewer’s perception of relativity in sizes by proposing how ironically, the small can create a boundless space in which the large is engulfed or the large can be a fraction of the small diminished.

Silent Vision, an acrylic on canvas by Naoto Nakagawa, plays with another facet of scale — proportions between motifs of an unvarying size. The uniformity is presumed by a mishmash of colossal vertical and diagonal planes of the same width lining up the painting.

It’s the ornate pattern of swirling curves within those undeviating lines that create the disproportion. From the antique textiles of the Ottoman Empire, to Irish pub carpets, all the way to the hideous upholstery that somehow survived the ’70s and now forever haunts your grandmother’s couch, it sets the imagination flailing for interpretations. The two contrasting proportions urge the viewers to simultaneously appreciate the graphic quality of the lines from afar and push their noses against the painting to make sense of the details.

Not only is it thought-provoking, but the exhibition is also humorous. Seeing something through a different lens can be proposition. In highlighting the vast difference in size, the curator pairs up artworks that, in the most literal fashion, mimic each other, so that viewers wouldn’t have to look twice to realize that one is supposed to be the abstract, or lifelike, iteration of the other. It is too easy, and it is surely not the high art’s approach. It is kitsch at its best.

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