Art Lies, Volume 43, Summer 2004 Page: 96
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Christopher French and Arielle Masson: Matrices
As recipients of the Cultural Arts Council of
Houston/Harris County's 2003 Artist Fellowship
Award, Christopher French and Arielle Masson
are featured in a small but effective two-person
show at spacel25gallery. Both artists are abstract
painters who repeat geometric patterns, but it's
the contrast between their work that lends the
show traction. French reminds us that the rigor of
intellectual pursuit can be hip and amusing while
Masson presents work born of brooding, personal
Christopher French continues to explore a
vocabulary of graphic elements: textural ground,
Braille, pairings of structured and unstructured ele-
ments or patterns formed from repeating shapes.
Here, French employs a circus of multicolored dots
in a strong reference to 1960s graphic design;
the result is a festive series of dancing molecules.
Previous series-such as French's huge finger-
prints over photos of their owners and literary
passages in Braille-seemed more philosophical
or theory-based. In contrast, this group is tons of
fun, not in the sense of a visual gag or smug post-
modern gesture but in a clever, polka-dotted-party
sort of way, with a grid structure that maintains a
semblance of order and decorum. While the idea
of play is not addressed in the artist's written sup-
port materials, it's unavoidable and enjoyable. Fun
is good! Deep solemnity doesn't exist without the
counterbalance of humor or angry, raw expression
without the expression of beauty. These are natu-
ral dualities, like night and day.
French's five paintings are well chosen, dem-
onstrating an evolution or exploration of like ele-
ments over time. His arrangement of dots becomes
less rigid and uniform. The ground changes from
chalky and opaque in earlier pieces, revealing a
Braille grid by the removal of pigment, to the
sumptuous glaze of Pillow Talk. Sharing more than
a title with the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie,
Pillow Talk, with its silky pink and orange ground,
could have easily appeared in the film as Doris'
unrumpled bedcover. In Big/Little's swirling brown
glaze over wood, French abandons the Braille grid
and returns to a familiar, gestural ground. Brush
marks spiral inward; dots break rank and follow
the swirl down the drain. It's a cliffhanger. I left
wanting to see what's next for French's current
cast of elements.
While French's pieces are decidedly graphic
and deliberate, Arielle Masson's work feels like a
mystical personal journey. Her pieces are darker
Christopher French, Big/Little, 2003
Oil and acrylic on wood panel
60 x 60 inches
in tone and theme, giving the show a nice bal-
ance. Masson's statement reveals the practice of
Kundalini yoga as her primary focus. At the risk of
oversimplification, Kundalini practitioners strive to
become one with the universe by unleashing the
cosmic energy that they believe rests at the base
of the spine. This isn't just a stretching class at the
YMCA-it's a lifestyle and a belief system aimed
at achieving the peak of human potential by plug-
ging your cord into the universe.
The exhibit includes two large panels and five
smaller pieces on paper. Masson's small pieces are
safe, almost decorative. Organic shapes, with the
texture of decades-old peeling paint or wallpaper,
are repeated in pleasing earth tones that are rich
and sensuous but not particularly challenging.
Masson's large and commanding vertical panels
are much more effective. They envelop the viewer
in a mysterious foreboding built on heavy, albeit
ambiguous, symbolism. These pieces explore the
natural world in fluid organic patterns, ambiguous
figure/ground relationships and light and shadow
in tonal X-ray color schemes.
Masson's titles hint at larger meanings and
intricate subtexts but fall short of revelation. With
its repeated Y chromosome shapes and vertebral
column, New Genome explores the genetic material
of an organism so deeply that we might be crossing
over into another dimension-an inner space, so to
speal<. Long Barrow seems to map the far reaches
of a solar system for future space travelers. But for
all its potential as galactic cartography, is the title a
reference to a wheelbarrow, a stone covered grave
Arielle Masson, Long Barrow, 2004
Acrylic on rag pager (25% rag)
120 x 52 1/2 inches
or a castrated pig? I'm not willing to guess, but I'm
satisfied with not knowing. It's Masson's journey;
I'm just along for the ride.
In a 1960 interview David Smith said, "There
is no such thing as pure abstraction...man always
has to work from his life...even his visions have
to be made up of the forms and [the] world that
he knows." When Christopher French plays in the
squishy spot between written and visual commu-
nication and Ariel Masson aligns her chakl<ras with
the universe, we see tangible evidence of how an
artist's life, interests and beliefs drive expression.
Matrices is a great example of how two artists
working via the same vehicle-abstract paint-
ing-can still, in this day and age, travel down
entirely different roads.
96 ARTL!ES Summer 2004
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Bryant, John. Art Lies, Volume 43, Summer 2004, periodical, 2004; Houston, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228008/m1/98/: accessed May 10, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; .