While the art studios at Brookland’s Monroe Street Market have been getting attention of late (it is hard to miss the two story letters on the building’s façade), they aren’t the only arts-related studios in the neighborhood. Just down the block lies the Brookland Artspace building, home to over 40 arts professionals covering disciplines across the creative spectrum. I profiled the building for East City Art just before its grand opening, but hadn’t been back to check in on the residents. The opening of Conversations by the intriguingly-named duo Duly Noted Painters (who maintain studio space onsite) gave me the perfect opportunity to stop by for a visit.
The Artspace’s Selman Gallery does double duty as the building’s main foyer and resident gallery space. Built with exhibiting in mind, the foyer/gallery contains ample wall space, high ceilings and abundant natural light. I was also impressed to see professional track-lighting in place for evening viewing. The duo’s work fills the walls nicely but doesn’t overwhelm the space, even though some of their works reach eight feet in width.
Kurtis Ceppetelli and Matthew Malone are the faces behind Duly Noted Painters, a name that came about according to Ceppetelli during a late-night phone conversation. Utilizing returned “oops” house paint and drop cloths from the nearby Home Depot, the duo creates multi-layered, abstract pieces that often present a unique, cohesive point of view. While an occasional work may take the form of a diptych, the vast majority of works are single canvases on which the artists paint together side-by-side, switching places as the day progresses.
Collaborations of this sort are something we don’t see often, so as I tour the gallery and upstairs studio I pepper the two painters with questions about their artistic relationship. While they have been painting together for two years, this is their first gallery show and Malone admits they are still learning as they go. While the initial impetus for a new work occasionally comes from a historical art reference, more often than not its poetry that ignites a creative spark. The two craft beatnik-style prose in charcoal directly onto the canvas, igniting their creative ideas. House paint has a quick drying time, forcing the artists to act paint spontaneously – a style that lends itself particularly well to abstraction. The adhesive properties of the drop cloth also impact the final product; on drop cloths the paint bleeds through rather than strictly adhering to the surface. The end results are images embedded in the canvas rather than residing on the surface, giving the abstract pieces an ersatz, street-art panache.
This isn’t necessarily the intent of the artists, but I can’t help but feel it adds an invigorating layer of complexity to what otherwise might be simple (well-executed) studies of abstract or neo-expressionism. At their best, the two present unified works that treat their references as points of artistic departure rather than mere rehashings of earlier ideas. Take for instance Willem de Ellington, one of their earlier works from 2011. While clearly a riff on Willem de Kooning, the duo imbues his well-traversed artistic archetype with 21st century street cred. The built-up layers of zany brushstrokes are readily apparent, but also shining through are snippets of words and ideas. Malone and Ceppetelli are referential of their artistic forebears (I can’t also help but notice a bit of Jean-Michel Basquiat thrown in for good measure) but take their work one step further, with layers of complex narration induced through fragments of dialogue. A similar narrative thread runs through The Dream, 2012, a large-scale piece featuring a modern-day harlequin behind what appears to be a colonnade. Again, the visual forms and lines provide scant information but fragments of words and thoughts provide fodder for the imagination.
Given that the two are still experimenting with their combined techniques, it is perhaps not surprising that a few pieces are not as successful in achieving this concept of pure unity. The Sketchbook, 2013 is the only diptych included in this exhibition and while visually interesting, feels more like a preparatory work. Their back-and-forth banter is apparent, but I am left feeling that I’m viewing two different works attempting to respond to one another, rather than one cohesive piece. A second line of work that the duo recently began contemplating is “poetry pieces” such as Green Poem, 2013, whose visual elements are chiefly running stanzas of free-form verse. Malone explains that the duo works side by side creating these musings, each taking a horizontal line, building on what the other writes. The concept is intriguing; all visual cues associated with portraiture, landscapes and the like are absent causing the words to stand in as images. Unfortunately in this case the actual banter comes across as disjointed; I feel like I’m watching a spirited tennis match rather than synchronized swimming.
Criticism aside, it’s still thrilling to watch this playfulness take shape. Long careers in the art world are built on upon these creative investigations – of constantly trying out new ideas for size. Not every idea will lead to fruitful work, but every idea is worth exploring. That is an axiom Malone and Ceppetelli seem to be keeping in mind. Ceppetelli notes they are constantly searching for “how they can push each other,” and it seems to me they’re off to a good start. That desire to keep pushing the creative envelope is going to serve them very well in the future as their work continues to mature.
Conversations runs through June 22nd at the Brookland Artspace’s Selman Gallery. Exhibition hours are Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-10pm and by appointment. For more information, visit their website or call Matt Malone at (571)277-3050.