TSA Essay: Thomas Vance: Plan

For those who didn't make it for the opening, or had trouble finding the essay I wrote for Thomas Vance's new exhibit at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Plan, here it is.

    Thomas Vance, 2010

Craft is a bridge. This image alone imparts a finely-tuned sense of the cause-and-effect of tools on a concept. Craft itself is a tool to make sense of the area between impulse and idea, where a finished work will eventually result. It also lends a sense of trickery to the workaday. And, how is the viewer engaged? This too carries a sense of craft; of willing wiliness. Craft will tend to be antisocial; anti-modern; anti-change. It is defined by gathered knowledge; private skill; proven technique; quality repetitions.  Because of this, craft can adroitly chisel out a beautiful rut for itself. The trick becomes old.
Thomas Vance’s exhibit of new work, Plan is, strictly speaking, a trompe l’oeil: both expertly constructed and finished, those same constructs and finishes fool our eyes, suggesting otherwise to us: the delicate hatching on an upright board suggests bark; the painted flow chart-like patterns suggest wood’s graininess; the puffy, turquoise jewels suggest trimmed shrubbery. But unlike trompe l’oeil, Vance’s surfaces are never fully a substitute: the trickery (craftiness) is never a less-than; replacement or simulacrum. They exist, rather, on their own – his piquant trees are stubbornly autonomous, morphed into a hushed, almost introverted timelessness. Faux-grained chests, originally made to mimic the richly-veneered case-pieces of the wealthy, may once have served as a consolation prize for a lower-class dowry, but they quickly became their own, powerful definition of beauty in artifice.
Not only that: Vance, the chief sorcerer in this mystic, aesthetic re-appropriation, has tricked foam, dimensional lumber, paper, clay and pigment into thinking they are a garden, or a lacquered floor. Much like the Japanese tradition he’s inspired by, Niwaki, one element of nature (shrubs) are tricked into thinking they are another (clouds). Interested in both sides of this equation, Vance utilizes not only his painted trees and interiors, but also painted wood that might have been sawn from those trees, and clad those floors – both painted on materials made from the actual thing. This brings to mind the phrase “inside-out” – implying a sense of being backwards, confused or reversed. The trickery, however, is only skin deep; the answer only a finger’s breadth away. And coupled with the reverse of that phrase, “outside-in”, we are reminded of Vance’s keen fascination with connections between the garden (traditionally an outside space) and architecture (traditionally an inside space), and the crafty places in which they meet, mingle and overlap. Plan is a deliberate experiment in that arena; craft lends directly into our visual ambiguity.
Nature is not crafty. Nature is direct, forthright and brusque. We may see craftiness in nature, but it is normally anthropomorphistic: we see a resembling reflection. Craft is a (nearly) thoroughly human distinction. Yet, we operate in nature; the places and materials we utilize and create in our craft are inevitably of, in or from nature. Houses must have a skin which touches air; gardens must be given light, otherwise our very definitions begin crumbling. Vance’s faux gardens and interiors then, are important neutral places between humanity’s craft and nature’s resoluteness; a mental or psychological resting place; a bench between impulse and idea. His work is a reflecting pool, in which the trees above us are juxtaposed and framed with our own bodies, on the very same – very physical – surface.

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