Reviewed in Visual Art Source
Theodora Varnay Jones
Don Soker Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng
Continuing through December 22 , 2018
The sixteen conceptual works by Theodora Varnay Jones in “Dialectics: angles of cognition, in the orbit of photography” do not reveal themselves quickly — as one might suspect, given their daunting title. Yet these multimedia works, featuring black and white photographs, graphite rubbing, and contour-line drawings on layers of paper (including Yupo and Japanese Gampi paper), Plexiglas and vellum, reward attentive scrutiny. Varnay Jones combines a love of materials, process and craftsmanship — the frames that she fabricates are integral parts of the artworks — with a concern for perception and philosophy. She particularly draws on Plato, who posited a perfect world beyond mundane appearances. Her works dialectically synthesize objectivity and subjectivity as the paintings of Cézanne and the Cubists (both influences) did; they combine multiple views to suggest the complex identity of objects and observer in the changing and timeless worlds of nature and modern life. “One perception is not enough for me,” the artist has said, ”I am combining different views.”
Varnay Jones considers photography and frottage (rubbings) to be similar, since they are both directly related to the objects that they depict: they’re emanations, in a way. In several pieces in the show — “ F-11 (Homage to M.G.),“ “F-9” and “F-10” — the titles designate frottage. These were inspired by the artist’s residences during the past two years, in rural, quiet and technology-averse studios north of San Francisco: at the Lucid Art Foundation, in the Marin County town of Inverness, in fact in the former studio of the late Surrealist/abstractionist Gordon Onslow Ford; and at the Morris Graves Foundation, in Humboldt County. Frottage in these magical time-warp locations became a non-photographic way to ‘record’ intriguing objects — Graves’s kitchen table, in this case — and to create an alternate object for further exploration. The rubbings, made on opaque and translucent papers, superimpose, but not precisely, a sense of movement and change, of depth and time. Other works take the same quiet route to mystery. An untitled, unframed wall piece of crumpled paper, irregularly circular and pleated, and coated with dark, glossy graphite, suggests a silent mineral world (as well as Max Ernst’s Surrealist 1925 frottage, “The Earth As Seen From the Earth”). A series of silverpoint botanical drawings and layered and flipped river-landscape photographs pay homage to Humboldt County’s natural glories, but transmute them into ambiguous symbols, floating worlds and vehicles for reverie. A pair of assisted-readymade sculptures (painted and repaired with gilding, kintsugi-style, or juxtaposed with other elements), transform a piece of fissured wood and a jumble of the protective paper removed from Plexiglas, “Mimic” and “Variant,” respectively, and show again that creative value can be coaxed from the most mundane materials.