East City Art Reviews—David Carlson Flattening Time at Fred Schnider Gallery

By Jan Aucker on December 15, 2020
Row Man Whoa Man, 2020 – 60″ x 48″. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The work of David Carlson has been influenced by both time and movement.  This began in the early 1990s when the Arlington, VA based artist was able to see the structures, buildings and artworks he had studied in art history classes in situ. It was then that he felt a real connection to these as physical objects.  In their presence, he felt a new sense of connection to them and to their historical reality in time. Then, after living for a while in Asia, Carlson began creating paintings inspired by the forms, patterns and movements which he had learned studying Tai Chi in the forests of China. This disciplined martial art and meditative practice allowed the artist to explore and cultivate his energy in a natural setting. He began creating his latest series, Flattening Time, over a year ago when he began asking himself “What is consciousness?” The concept of “flattening time” came out of a deep spiritual awareness that followed the unexpected death of his sister. The arrival of COVID-19 further disrupted all aspects of the artist’s personal life, time and existence gaining a new relevance for him.

Reminiscent of the works of Russian 20th-century artists EL Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich, who sought to capture movement in their art, Carlson’s paintings can be delicate and small or sometimes large scale and sweeping.  Flattening Time is a body of 26 works that were developed simultaneously.  When Carlson begins a group of paintings, he has no preconceived ideas or agenda but starts an exploration of finding the art through the process of making it.  This allows him to establish a workflow and keeps creative blockages to a minimum.  This routine feeds into his artistic and spiritual practice, allowing ideas and changes to occur as he shifts from canvas to canvas. By incorporating his artistic creativity with Tai Chi techniques, he is able to enhance his energy while letting his thoughts emerge naturally.  He begins with an acrylic medium which dries rapidly, permitting for quick additional layering.  When the work feels ready, he shifts to oil. The flexibility achieved from building up, rubbing down and adding or subtracting things from the overall composition creates a ‘push/pull’ action, with forms appearing to move toward or behind one another within the shallow pictorial space. The effect is a condensed composition with fragments breaking away and almost lost, suggesting aspects of energy that aren’t visual, that is, similar to the Chi energy current that flows through our bodies.

Gallery View – Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of Carlson’s larger works, Blood is the Root and the Call, stands prominently on its own on a dividing wall as you walk into Fred Schinder Gallery in Arlington, VA.  The canvas is full of textures, thicknesses and different opacities. There is a physicality with this painting particularly evident in the red rectangle at the bottom where the artist used his fingers to create deep indentations resembling filaments or roots. This denseness of colors and shapes draws your eyes to the upper right corner where the forms disperse into narrow linear lines that move off the canvas. According to the artist, the title represents blood as the fluid of life that runs through our bodies and in which can often be found a warning of illness or a call for a change for a healthier lifestyle.

Blood is the Root and the Call, 2020 – 60″x 48″. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Throughout the series, Carlson frequently uses large areas of white and a recurring theme of dots. This is especially evident in Entr’acte in which the artist has successfully incorporated these two elements to dominate the image.  There are competing forces between white and black, and a tension between the delicate and strong shapes underneath.  A variety of subtleties with color and texture catch your eye as you continue to explore this work. Circles are integrated into other forms as they float and attach to morphic ribbons of gold and teal. Underneath, are multiple wisps of black strands that hold the objects together. The layers of rough and smooth surfaces compete for space on the canvas, while the multicolored lines flow in and around each object. The artist’s conceptualizing allows each viewer to interpret the painting differently.

Entr’acte, 2020 – 40″x 30″. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Each painting possesses similar traits but with different qualities. Another section of the gallery contains some smaller sized works and drawings that were used as studies to collect information to formulate the series.  With Howling Whisper he continues his distinctive technique of using mixed mediums, but with this work, forms are concentrated and layered as if they are piled one on top of one another. The spheres and the white powdered pigment are evident but he has added a small square which resembles a cutout allowing the viewer to look into another world behind the picture plane. In Howling Whisper the artist breaks through the two-dimensional surface seeking to create a deeper sense of pictorial space within the composition. As in other paintings, Carlson here likes to play with tensions and oppositions, between opacity and transparency.

Howling Whisper, 2020 – 24″x 24″. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

With this body of work, the artist thought about time, movement and his spiritual awareness.  While painting is a still two-dimensional medium through which he can explore his ideas, Carlson uses his canvases to represent specific personal events that have influenced his view on time and existence.  In thinking about the concept of “flattening time”– the exhibition’s title, he sought to give expression to the experience in Buddhist practice where one feels present and interconnected with all things in a suspension, or “flattening” of time. This aim was very personal for Carlson with the passing of a close family member just as these paintings were being resolved.  A confluence of an eccentric movement and a poignant moment, as life and death continue.

Flattening Time is on view through December 20th, 2020 at the Fred Schnider Gallery at 888 N. Quincy Street, Suite 102, Arlington, Virginia. For more information visit www.fredschnidergalleryofart.com. (During the COVID pandemic, visitors are welcome to call the gallery at 703.405.1642 to schedule a private viewing of the exhibit within the weekly hours of Thursday-Sunday, 12-7pm).