ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Exquisite corpses abound in William Downs-Brooke Pickett collaborations at {Poem88}

Review: Exquisite corpses abound in William Downs-Brooke Pickett collaborations at {Poem88}

William Downs and Brooke Pickett merge very different styles in collaborative works that range from the playfully whimsical to the downright foreboding. They draw from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, using an array of media — including paint, markers, colored pencils, magazine images, ink, newsprint, handmade paper and the occasional smattering of glitter — to produce the colorful, schizophrenic stew on view in “Crossing Lines” at {Poem88} through May 26. 

Conceptually, it’s an interesting approach, harking back to the Surrealist exercise they called “exquisite corpse.” One artist begins a drawing, conceals his marks except for an exposed periphery, and passes it along to the next, who then adds his own elements, and so on. Freed from the constraints of consistency and the limitations of ownership, the artists often find creative liberation — and end up with a work that could not have been crafted by a single author.

Downs and Pickett, who also exhibit individual works, explore the possibilities of collaboration as a means to expand the boundaries of individual style and to achieve a fresh dialogue. Their version of the Surrealists’ method has fewer restraints. Working in the same room and taking turns with the images, they employ a more fluid method, which they liken to gospel music’s call and response. It releases them from the presuppositions of their inner dialogues and enables them to create an entirely new voice.

In her solo drawings, Pickett favors a sparse and linear approach to abstraction. Her mark-making, though seemingly intuitive and fluid, is characterized by economy of line and controlled use of color. In their collaborations, Downs’ more expressionistic style provides a layer of density that grounds Pickett’s linear gestural drawing. His contributions are sometimes darkly figurative, adding a dramatic, psychological element. Forms with thick, meaty textures, like imposing storm clouds, gather in the negative spaces between Pickett’s abstractions, playing against her ethereal tendencies. Occasionally, Downs’ figures are reminiscent of the brooding daruma characters in traditional Japanese iconography, which are offset by Pickett’s fanciful environments.

The images that the two forge together have the quality of unsettling dreams: abstract forms and amputated figures hang in fractured geometries, making the eye move in erratic patterns to capture the details. The compositions are not meant to soothe but to jar; there is little comfort to be found in their forced hybridity.

Downs, who draws from the observation of human behavior and dreams, tends to take the most ownership of any perceived narrative thread; his figures seem to dominate the odd dimensions they inhabit.

The 60-plus collaborative works on view here mesh their very different sensibilities with varying degrees of success. At their best, the duo cross media boundaries with combinations of painting, drawing and collage techniques, creating dimension and texture that allow their clash of styles to establish an uneasy tension within the compositions. Sometimes, though, the clash is just that, and the collaboration seems forced or, at worst, flimsy.

Overall, the interest lies in the constraints and possibilities inherent in the process and the potential for this methodology to expand the parameters of future work by both artists.

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