Sincerely Yours undresses irony at the Paragraph, and Casey Hannan gets Woe-ful at the Bunker Center

Sincerely Yours, a guest-curated exhibition showcasing three Charlotte Street residents at Paragraph Gallery, sets its sights on raw honesty. And, cloying title notwithstanding, the show works, allowing each of its participants ample opportunity to demonstrate how to defeat the contemporary oppressions of irony.

Lucas Wetzel’s “Cover Letters” uses writing — pithy observational fragments, really — to lay a finger on the unease of modern connectivity. Clusters of words are printed on small doors and hung on hinges throughout the room; to find out how each phrase ends, you must lift the tab. “The costume party,” starts one, which ends: “where everyone is dressed as themselves.” As micro poetry, it can feel both self-referential and hyper-critical: of technology, the city, even the state of art itself. As a mission statement for the exhibition as a whole, though, it’s fairly evocative. To be effective, we understand, irony must transcend the outdated asides of trucker caps.

Neil Goss’ “The Untold Story: Day to Day” conveys the rough beauty of ancient power: Hemp tufts spew from between the fibers of a tapestry, fighting to return to a natural state. Tendrils reach up to the ceiling to keep the sculpture buoyant against a bottom anchored by stones. It deserves to be hung more expertly than it is here, where it’s undercut by the Paragraph’s need for utility.

His “Broken Consistency: The Only Pattern Is Destruction,” however, is seamless in its mixture of natural materials and space-appropriate presentation. And it works all the more for the absence of its heavy-handed title near the artwork. (I didn’t know what it was called until I read the list of works afterward.) The hemp-and-wool tapestry evokes charred prairie patches, with the woven black fibers defying the set pattern of the loom. It’s an intuitive execution of materials abiding by their ephemeral nature. Over time, the bamboo branches woven into the fibers will naturally fade from green to yellow.

“Broken Consistency” is not the only Goss sculpture that calls to mind acts of burnt earth. “Peachy Keen: Deterioration” employs the use of a found branch to hang the woven element. Fibers in this tapestry appear to have been actually burned away as the visual and physical texture changes from soft to a crumbled ash.

Monica Dixon’s softer “Scales, Tongues, and Feathers” scallops the west wall with a blend of found fibers organized by color, a bookend to her voluminous (that is, dried bean–filled) and charming, Ernesto Neto–inspired stockings at the front window of the gallery, which bulge and stretch as if under the weight of an invisible body. Chameleon scales change from green to pink in the asymmetrical installation, interrupted by misplaced shirt sleeves, empty of arms. This is Dixon’s appeal to an anti- or post-ironic temperament. Instead of caustically remarking on the clothes she procures or their cultural origins, she treats the castoffs with equal deliberation. The longer you look at the piece, the richer it becomes, as it reveals the diversity of fabrics at play: jersey fabric, Lycra, colors that time-traveled from the 1980s. But we also see the refuse of intimate life, the disused lingerie and silky camisoles hiding between the cotton blends of business-casual. Dixon makes “Scales, Tongues, and Feathers” a little monument to vulnerability, one that sets aside cynicism to patiently consider the meaning of comfort in material-to-body relationships. Her art here is, in a word, sincere.

Sincerely Yours

Through August 6 at Paragraph Gallery, 23 East 12th Street,

When an artist sets out to write, or a writer sets out to make art, failure hangs thick in the air. Once in a while, though, someone with rare talent employs two different mediums within one project without lessening the impact of either. See: Casey Hannan, who, at the Bunker Center for the Arts, exhibits a room of exceptional drawings paralleled with his fine poetry.

The figures lining the walls — some of them noticeably hunky — act out a succession of miniature narratives that culminate in Hannan’s newest book, The Three Woes. There, he spins the contemporary tale of three men in a polyamorous relationship, the story weaving through the minds and lives of the characters. This baring of private thoughts, affecting in the prose, is no less impressive in the drawings, the best of which stand alone without the help of the text. (I preferred to explore the drawings before reading the prose; the implied connectivity of the uniformly sized drawings and recurring characters provides its own dreamlike narrative.)

Hannan’s simple shapes and reduced characterization of the human form make for easy access to the larger story, his style working in tandem with some brief, two-panel displays of the author’s concise and surreal flash fiction. In one of those, a man lies in bed in a dark room while another man climbs in. Hannan uses blue and black to indicate the time of day here, but in the second part he splits those colors with a beam of light overhead that reveals the full color of the room, showing us only the first man in bed.

Rather than fall back on familiar backgrounds or repetitious sequences, Hannan’s drawings strike you with their versatile and voyeuristic perspectives. The layout of isolated scenes lends an element of the unexpected, and the drawings start to resemble cards in a tarot deck, perhaps warning of some future dread. Heartbreak and loss are subtly present throughout.

But it isn’t all melancholy. A colorful club scene is tender and alive. A lovemaking scene addresses the question of intimacy among the book’s men. A titillating act is captured through the screen of a smartphone. There is a fearlessness to the drawings here, which can be both gently petite and vividly, boldly colorful. Hannan doesn’t just draw in this artwork. He applies a kind of philosophy, an echo of love itself. He tries to leave no space empty.

Casey Hannan

Through September 8 at Bunker Center for the Arts, 1014 East 19th Street

Categories: Art