Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Amazing Works by Robert Mellor and Hunt Rettig at Julie Nester Gallery

Robert Mellor, “Daydream,” acrylic on canvas, 32 x 48 in.

All our world involves transactional borrowing, or theft. Except our sun, our landlord — who gives us what we have for free (while flames are slowly consuming his own self) — everything’s an extractive bargain, an argument settled by sharing. Earth draws its moisture from the sky, and the sky draws its moisture from the earth. You, a human, marry someone because they can provide you something you yourself cannot, even if that something is as small (or as all-important) as laughter. You work at a job because you get something from the job: money or delight or importance or respite from the cares of home. You die because you are frail, and the world needs room for new people. (Suns and stars, on the other hand, keep cropping up because the simple pressure of gravity, which never ceases, sparks them.) 

In Robert Mellor’s paintings, now showing at Julie Nester Gallery in Park City, the transactional borrowings are the argument, and the fire. In his painting “A New Western Sun” there are four suns, spaced across his long horizontal canvas. One, the deep orange sun you see first, is slipped all the way to the west coast of the painting, and fronds of a plant seem to melt into its orange. The three eastern suns are cooler-looking, even green-blue: they look like the startling circles appearing like shocked eyes in Arts and Crafts stained glass windows. Just as in Wrightean Arts and Crafts-era stained glass, vertical or horizontal lines run through centers of Mellor’s circles (suns). 

Robert Mellor, “A New Western Sun,” acrylic on canvas, 42 x 80 in.

In “Tempest” two painted East Asian celebratory banners flicker and writhe in the sea-wind above an octopus of undersea movement below: banner designers have copied the fluid forms of plants and fish. Fin-like trim flutters all along side-edges of the flickering, sinuous, richly-colored banners. Beneath them, in the painting, is the undersea, almost crazy with sinuous movement. Small, flatly-white stars frolic all over the canvas, a celebration of on-land humans showing appreciation, through their banners, for the beauty of underwater — from whence they came.

“Daydream” seems to be an American asking where, exactly, old-worlds history and heraldry and monarchy have gone. Within a section of “Daydream” are the curving designs of a blue-green mosaic; there is also a section looking like mortared brick. The bricks merge into more trompe-l’oeil in a section of striped fabric which has unrolled itself from the upper right. At center is an almost helmet-like knot of fabric, above a sad heap of knotted, and re-knotted, golden cord, which seems to have become purposeless: literally, now, it’s fret-work, an extra length of golden cord someone feeling fretful may have been idly trying to knot in as many knots as possible, because the cord has no use or purpose..

“Marvel”, with its brilliant reds and yellows and blues, is emblematic of comic book colors for Superman (all-powerful Superman, who once, in Superman history, rerouted the Earth back into its proper place and orbit, by pushing it forward with his two hands). In all of Mellor’s work, he uses incisive, inked outlines, coloring in precisely between the lines. This comic-book narrative inking conveys fast-whip energy, as in paintings by Roger Shimomura and Roy Lichtenstein, whose ink outlines draw you back to comics and Japanese art.

Robert Mellor, “Lake House,” acrylic on canvas, 32 x 48 in.

But it’s his painting “Lake House” which exquisitely cartoonizes the bargains struck, transactions made, between nature and architecture. What is a lake house, after all? A house as close to the water as it can be, sometimes even hovering over water. There’s an old saying: “architecture is nature in drag” — in other words, architecture steals imitatively and mockingly from natural forms, from Mother Nature. The interior of Robert Mellor’s “Lake House” is a sleepy and uterine deep-maroon, etched with bone-pale designs which look like gentle, wishful drawings in caves. But the outside of this lake house is harsh zig-zags; the dark-green area beyond this lake house looks like the designs of a madman-architect, possibly drawn to outwit enemies. A carefully-manicured maze, as maddening as roofs which shut you forever away from stars.  

Hunt Rettig, “Flow Even.” polymer film, acrylic, rubber, 40 x 30 in.

A fine relief, or consolation, after the intensity of Mellor’s paintings, are the framed works by Hunt Rettig. Think mother-of-pearl instead of “polymer film, acrylic, and rubber” and you can imagine what you will find in Rettig’s work. Photographs fail; photographs make these works look three-dimensional (actually, underneath, they are three-dimensional: but a flat layer tops them, making them flatwork). 

Hunt Rettig’s “Flash” is goldenness, with glimmer-pale yellows and pinks and greens you would only find lining the inside of a shell; “Flow Even” seems to be somehow containing whorls of incense-smoke: yet it has a sheen, glows, an intent silver, with under-blushes of pink and white. As you walk past several of these pieces by Rettig — left, then right, then left again — they shadow, then glow in accordance with your steps, playing a shuddering sort of hide-and-seek. You would almost guess they are battery-lit, from within, but their glow is absorbed-and-retransmitted light. This must be the artwork of the future, when artists will pull off strange and astounding scientific miracles, with materials (kryptonite?) only they know how to handle, contain: as if in sci-fi’s Amazing Stories, but ownable as art.

Hunt Rettig, “Flash,” polymer film, rubber, acrylic, 25 x 21 in.

Introductions: Robert Mellor and Hunt Rettig, Julie Nester Gallery, Park City, through Mar. 28

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