Posted January 7, 2010 in Arts & Culture

A mash-up of drips and blobs, sanding, scraping and stylistic devices push Dan Callis’ paintings all over the map. The informality of his paintings in “mise en forme,” at Bunny Gunner in Pomona, and the immediacy of his visual language, lend these paintings an improvisational air. The work is playful, whimsical, and lighthearted, as if quickly and spontaneously created. It is this quality that makes them appealing.


Callis envisions his work as an equivalent experience to nature, and this theme appears as flower forms in a number of these works. In forme #18, a small work on paper, a lovely pinwheel shape occupies the right half of the composition. The spokes of the pinwheel/flower shape are constructed from narrow strips of paper, cut from printed material and collaged to the surface of the painting under layers of wax. The wax is sanded, leaving visible scuff marks and scrapes, and it is translucent enough to see the commercial printing on each spoke—a fragment of a face on one, letters on another. This pinwheel shape has an entirely abstract cast, de-coupling it from the specificity of “flower” or “flowers” and allowing it ambiguity. The left half of the composition dissolves at the upper boundary into a pool of acrylic lined with slight topographic divots in the paint where it contracted as it dried. 


Unlike in forme #18, the flower forms in his three venia apparendi paintings feel distracting. The theme is only cursorily developed, and as a consequence, it feels like an afterthought, or a meaningless graphic. Callis would be better off leaving it out completely or treating it as he does in forme #18: as abstractly as possible, allowing equivocation.


Mise en forme #9, at 83”x47”, is the largest, and strongest, work in the show. It is a diptych of sorts: a panel on the right, joined to canvas on the left. Fiberglass cloth has been adhered with resin to the panel skin, in a process not unlike glassing a surfboard. The abraded surface looks like it has been weathered by sand, wind and sun. Fissures run across the painting revealing fiberglass fabric and it resembles an aged surfboard cracked and yellowed from repeated exposure to salt water. A very clear seam forms at the boundary between the two halves of this painting, and it is reflective of Callis’ joining of disparate elements. He wants the fractures and boundaries to be obvious. The left half of the painting has a pattern of overlapping stripes in tan, purple, and clear acrylic medium. Splashes and washes of diluted acrylic peak through between stripes—oranges, salmons, purple lake, crimson, cadmium yellow. In the right panel, two large “D” shapes painted in a mix of cerulean, Payne’s grey and Prussian blue funnel your eyes to the center of the panel. 


Callis seems to be painting purely for the joy of pushing around material and color. In sharp relief to this purely tangible experience, the entire show reflects Callis’ concerns with giving substance, in the object of painting, to something unseen—sort of like faith, or an incarnation. Callis alludes to these philosophic concerns, which stem from the writings of the philosopher and theologian Jean-Luc Marion, both in the title of the show, mise en forme, and in the titles of the paintings, which are numbered versions of forme, mise en forme and venia apparendi; but if you miss the title reference, those concerns don’t show up. While it is not extraordinary for philosophy to inform art, the lack of meaningful incorporation of these ideas onto the pictorial space keeps those concerns invisible.


Dan Callis paintings “mise en forme” (desires its placement in form) at Bunny Gunner, 266 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 868-2808; Thru Jan. 5. Tue-Fri, 11AM-7PM; Sat, noon-6PM.


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