Christopher MacQueen's artwork, now on display at Eggman & Walrus Art Emporium, invites us to open the dialogue on the nature of early 21st-century art, as movement rather than a period of time.
This movement, I believe, is transitional, like the current state of journalism, as well as necessary as a method of experimentation, of extending and even tearing down the work of the old masters, in the spirit of Dada.
A self-described installation artist, MacQueen has turned the walls of Eggman’s side gallery into a picture window onto an imaginary landscape.
Over the mural, MacQueen has placed seven drawings in shadow boxes, imitating the act of looking through a telescope to the individual scenes contained within the bigger landscape. Having spoken with MacQueen as he installed the work, I’m aware that he doesn’t necessarily intend for the drawings to come out of the mural itself, though he does invite us to observe them from afar.
I took some notes from our conversation, but his artist statement regarding this effect is more precise: “The viewer is invited to peer into each drawing as if looking into a porthole to an atmospheric landscape... allowing viewers to gaze into, but not to enter, the world it contains.”
MacQueen attempts, quite successfully, the illusion of a three-dimensional structure on a two-dimensional plane by drawing the structures with graphite over abstract landscapes derived from richly applied watercolors.
Some give the impression of playgrounds, others of twisted metal on dilapidated grounds, the edges of civilization. At some point, MacQueen says, he’d like to actually sculpt some of these structures out of metal.
Though each shadow box stands on its own, I found the total installation—including the way MacQueen considers the changing reflections off the glass in each shadow box—more dynamic.
Moreover, while I admire MacQueen’s process, relying heavily on “an automatic visual language” inspired by surrealism as much as by abstract expressionism, I’m aware in viewing the work that MacQueen studied art history at the University of New Mexico and that he teaches at VSA Arts of New Mexico.
His drawings are full of ideas, derived from his research and experimentation into architectural forms, as much as his admiration of Frederick Hammersley, whom he describes as working in “hard-edge geometric abstraction,” as well as other artists and art movements.
Some of the pieces do elicit an emotional response, through that edge-of-civilization desolation I described earlier, but I’m ready for contemporary art to exit the self-referential phase. Where’s the rebel spirit of Dada? The rejection of the art establishment at the conception of abstract expressionism?
MacQueen’s drawings have visual aesthetic power, but now I’d like to see his formal experimentation applied to the questions that plague him, whatever they might be, about his identity or his immediate environment or the fact that, as of Monday morning, more than 1,300 cities across the country, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, have joined the “Occupy” movement that began on Wall Street last week.
I don’t intend for this opinion to undermine the achievement of MacQueen’s collection, titled Go On; nor do I ignore that I may be unfairly imposing the responsibility of dialogue on this artist, when I might as easily choose another one more interested in relating his work to “the issues,” as it were.
However, my interaction with MacQueen’s work brings these ideas and concerns to mind. I accept his invitation to look into the world of these landscapes, and in them I see questions about the relevance art has to us in the 21st century.
Go On hangs at Eggman & Walrus Art Emporium through Nov. 15.