Chelsea Raflo’s and Chris Hamersly’s “Coeducation,” at MINT, is a collaborative show of their individual works that explores their relationship as artists sharing lives and limited living quarters, coordinating not just distinct ways of working on art, but imaginative visions. It runs through February 27.
Given this focus on relationship and collaboration, it’s unfortunate timing that the show comes on the heels of the fresh interest in Raflo resulting from her video work in the current “Movers and Shakers” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Being in a museum show raises the stakes, especially when its subtitle describes the participants as “Rising Stars of the Art Scene.” (Photos by Mike Germon.)
“Coeducation,” however, needs to be taken on its own merits. This isn’t Raflo the videographer showing her work alongside her partner’s; it’s Raflo and Hamersly exploring themes of relationship in a risky mutual experiment in drawing and painting that parallels the risks of close relationships in general. Each of them stretched beyond their usual styles and strategies to create this work, even though each worked separately in the same studio.
The show is pleasingly cohesive on those grounds (wall drawings tie the most disparate pieces together), and given the irresistible $25-to-$175 price range, the works have sold well to a clientele that includes critics and influential collectors. (Full disclosure: I bought one of the works.)
Hamersly’s work consists primarily of abstract geometry and portraiture, though there are also a few pieces treating text as not always legible typographic design; at least one of these latter works is in direct response to a work by Raflo. It’s difficult to know exactly where to place Hamersly — elements of his visual strategies recall everyone from Matisse to Alex Katz to Luc Tuymans — but the spare rendering and flowing lines of such works as “Wired Shut” have a more immediate aesthetic impact than the blockier monochromatic-background portrait heads. (Emotional impact may be a different matter.)
Raflo’s range of styles and strategies remains dazzling, as she pushes into new territory while retaining the best parts of past successes. Most of her works involve visual jokes, of which the vertically arranged diptych “Pause” is the most art-historical. The upper painting shows a boulder on a blank background — or hanging in space. The lower painting depicts the ominous shadow the boulder casts on two figures who stand directly beneath its location in the upper painting. But the rock will never drop, any more than Magritte’s floating boulders will; paintings suspend time forever, no matter how realistically they represent fast-moving events. (In addition, the two paintings of the diptych are for sale separately, making the title potentially meaningless.)
“Blanch, to leave unnoticed” (at left) is an obsolete definition of the word that Raflo deploys as the title of a painting and an identifying line of text floating above the succinctly composed figure of a woman of that name, dressed in white and accompanied by a white dog (thus punning visually on the word’s current meanings, “to turn pale, or to whiten something by removing its color”). The washed-out green of the lawn that Blanch (presumably spelled thus) stands on and the near-white blossoms of the tree on the horizon complete the theme.
In “I know it’s here somewhere,” small searching figures in the foreground are painted in oil on the glass of a shadow box, and thus cast actual shadows on the lawn of the building depicted in watercolor in the background — a visual trick that is simple but exceptionally effective.
Raflo strikes out in new directions with collage as well as pursuing her trademark style of small, intricately metaphoric drawings and paintings. Her deployment of this perilous medium (it is all too easy to get collage wrong) is flawless in “Testing,” where the collaged dish of a radio telescope is blended brilliantly with a mountainous background in watercolor and tiny figures drawn in fine-line graphite. Other pieces feel more transitional, as indeed Raflo acknowledges they are.
Raflo and Hamersly are themselves in a transition of which this exhibition is a component. The pas de deux of relationships can be a difficult one, and often the attempt to strike a balance between divergent backgrounds ends up being a hybrid combination that pleases neither party. In that sense, the coeducation involved in cohabitation consists in learning how to respect, explore and ultimately enjoy each other’s otherness. This exhibition is a tentative step in that direction.