Paintings and drawings by Andrew Alba travel with you. Even his signature leaves an echo in your head: a pale white loop-the-loop signature, alba all lower-case and cursive, no letter superior to another in size or emphasis or speed. Eyes, in his paintings, are blobs-of-darkness, curiously suggesting blindness, or a simple, closed, half-moon shape, declaring sleep. Pillows and blankets in “Pillows and Blankets” are billowing scribbles of colors, suggesting the billowing puff-clouds of insulation within them.
Alba says, in an article in Southwest Contemporary magazine (“Breaking to Build: Andrew Alba’s Carnal Desire to Paint”): “I’m always trying to break something … I need to break something to fix it.” You’re pulled as if by jet stream into Andrew Alba’s paintings, where, as in The Goo Goo Dolls’ song Iris, “everything’s made to be broken.”
His show’s title, Puffy Coat, according to curator/Current Work director Tiffini Porter, alludes to dreams of safety and love, and how those persistent hopes of safety and love (cozy as a coat) will weather over time (prospering, persisting, or failing). Females in his paintings are, largely, islands of hope and calm and warmth and peace: they are being kissed, or sleeping with half-moon closed eyes, or are found in their girlhood with unicorns; or dealing with their wet or unpinned hair. “Fixing Hair” shows the practiced and instinctual grace of a woman tending her waterfall of hair, similar to how a woman might daily begin the carrying of a basket on her head: a daily graceful and calm management of chaos.
Alba, once a welder, studies, with great interest, conjoinment. “Headstand”, a carnival of un-retreating purples, is like a four-handled cup, made of two people, one figure on top and one figure on bottom merged somehow into one head with four eyes; arms interlocked. “Hands Holding” does not attempt to be more than a wobble-tremble of fingers; you feel the humble hope that their symbolic and comforting interlocking will persist, be strong. In “Embrace” there’s Raggedy-Andy-and-Raggedy-Ann-simplicity: two doll-like somber brown and blue round-heads are close, but not touching; their arms combine them. (A reminder, if we need it, that no matter how close we are to someone, brains remain separate; secret territories.)
A painting simply titled “4” — perhaps suggesting the math of the four eyes and four ears a couple becomes, as they face each other, and kiss — is one of the simplest and largest paintings in the show, and reminds you of the grace of Brian Kershisnik paintings: the deft and emphatic curve of the man’s neck, the rich privacy the artist has given their faces.
There’s conjoinment, too — almost — between several canvases, in this show; canvases are twinned, and align and touch. “Young Boy with a Black Eye” presses close to “Flowers”; “Hands Holding” is in direct contact with “Reclining Nude in Bed.” Each offers relief and distraction from the other, but they’re also a bit like twins, watchful over each other’s fates. In “Young Boy with a Black Eye” the boy’s two eyes have become, through the art of the painter, engoggled: it’s as if the painter has provided him with protective eyewear with conjoining bridge.
Two paintings have not been placed near each other, though they both contain unicorns: the very large painting “Death Myth” and the smaller “Ari-Unicorn”. “Death Myth” is almost the Guernica of love: the most ungainly and huge and sprawling unicorn you will ever see writhes miserably on its back, his idiotic little horn at the center of his mule-like head looking like a party-favor afterthought. He is no longer a charming prince-figure. He, here, is the symbol of the agony/failure of love.
Around the corner, a few paintings away, is the much smaller “Ari-Unicorn”. The girl-child in the painting seems either miserably prescient or about to be made happy by a gift: atop her lap is a stuffed, pastel candy-colored unicorn. This girl has placed her hands over her eyes, preventing sight. Is she about to open her eyes? Find the gift? Or is she realizing the pretty unicorn-myth of love may be too good to ever be true. Toy unicorns may be so pretty to distract you from a truth: Romantic love can bring more pain than joy.
This solo show by Andrew Alba is dreams and nightmares come true, and there’s not a painting here that doesn’t seem to be filled with the beautiful, suffering and secretive, soul of glass.
Andrew Alba: Puffy Coat, Current Work, Salt Lake City, through Mar. 24
Rebecca Pyle is a writer and an artist with work in dozens of art/literary journals, in the United States and also in journals (in the English language) in Hong Kong and the U.K. and Northern Ireland, Belgium, India, France, and Germany. She graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz adored, the University of Kansas, where she studied art and lit. See rebeccapyleartist.com.