Contributed by Zach Seeger / Mark Joshua Epstein’s quietly inspiring exhibition “A Change in Mood and Weather” in The Skirt Space at Ortega y Gasset Projects embodies the artist’s move away from New York and formal recapitulation of the city in his work. The skirt is an around-the-corner hall of fractal clarity and patterned architecture. Its painted walls provide a fitting backdrop for Epstein’s modularly composed paintings and photographs, which compress densely arranged patterns. The paintings’ three-dimensional relief amplifies the glitchy slippage of shapes and colors that drift between forms. In turn, the interior structures of the paintings serve as Viewfinders for the subtle shifts in light and shadow on the walls that follow the viewer through the space. Superficially, the work looks like a decorative imposition of the hard edge on more unwieldy painted textures of a post- industrial interior, but it transcends mere reduction to formal qualities.
Imagine the Bauhaus after 1933. Josef Albers to Black Mountain, Mies van der Rohe to Chicago, Walter Gropius to Harvard. These were artists emigrating away from the putative center of culture, not only to escape an impossible situation but also to keep the modernist dream alive. Their quest was to educate artists and transform art itself by superimposing a new ethos onto a dated cultural history, establishing the very structure of twentieth-century American art. Epstein is not a modernist, and we are in a pandemic. But like the work of those great modernists, his exhibition chronicles a significant shift in artistic experience involving new cultural and formal challenges that are both personal and circumstantial.
In moving to Michigan, Epstein sacrificed his ability to directly collaborate with other artists in New York. But this created an opportunity for him to internalize his work’s formal components, and to generate an autonomous aesthetic in an unfamiliar place. Much like Richard Hamilton in the early work of his that was influenced by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s On Growth and Form, Epstein imposes a formal framework onto the organic chaos of new surroundings. His photos, painted patterns, and their positioning within the interior spaces at OyG both reflect this dynamic new relationship and document its development. They are windows on – and visual keys to – Epstein’s new world. In constructing that world, he has employed his art practice to sustain meaning and purpose in his life, gaining comfort and clarity, nourishing a sense of personal investment, and, not least, demonstrating art’s existential utility.
“Mark Joshua Epstein: A Change in Mood and Weather,” Ortega y Gasset Projects, 363 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Through June 6, 2021.
About the Author: Zach Seeger is a painter, sculptor, and writer working in Brooklyn and upstate New York. He received his BFA from Binghamton University and MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has exhibited at Arts + Leisure and Freight + Volume galleries, Crush Curatorial, stARTup Fair LA, Artspace Tetra (in Fukoka, Japan), Life on Mars Gallery, Room 482, and Ortega y Gasset Projects. He is a regular contributor for Two Coats of Paint and teaches painting and drawing at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
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