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Chris Ballantyne: “When The World Was Flat” at Hosfelt Gallery (San Francisco)
by Mark Van Proyen
Aug 2008

Chris Ballantyne: “When The World Was Flat” at Hosfelt Gallery

Chris Ballantyne has titled this new body of work When the World Was Flat, and this proved a fitting double entendre. One way of engaging it is to see how well the artist counterpoints two attributes of the acrylic paint that he uses, one being the graphically flat, and the other being its diluted quasi-watercolor mode, which creates ominous atmospheric effects. In the dozen surreal landscapes that made up this exhibition, the flat aspect of the paint became a crisp analogy for the world of graphic signage giving way to empty architectural facts, such as drainage culverts, uninhabited bus stops and semi-excavated vacant lots. The aqueous aspect of the paint seems to evoke something else that is harder to pin down: perhaps it is the spirit that has evacuated itself from these disconnected signs of endlessly interchangeable suburbia, or a force of nature poised to take revenge for the depredations of post-urban architecture. The important point is that the dialogue of these attributes touches on a distinctly American anxiety, reminding us that we are no longer safely ensconced in the proverbial Kansas of the bygone twentieth century.

Most of the works presented here were on framed pieces of small paper, and they are quite seductive. A good example is Untitled, Pool, (Hotel) (2007) which shows a two story building in rigid symmetrical view, built around an almost empty swimming pool. A larger work on unframed paper titled Untitled, Culvert (Waterfall) (2007) shows an inert piece of civil engineering bisecting an small island that floats in space. The temporary installation of the Mural Sized Untitled Ocean (2007) reverses this pictorial strategy in the sweep of a 10' x 42' foot scale. It shows a large body of water with a thin telephone line slowly submerging at one end of the composition, reemerging at the far side of a small wall that is set perpendicular to the picture plane.

Untitled Lot (Bus Stop) (2007) is painted on plywood panel and is one of the most arresting pieces in the show. It gives us a nocturnal image of an uninhabited bus stop next to an empty lot, illuminated by few streetlights. The perspective of the streets surrounding the lot creates a perfect diamond shape, while the dark red acrylic stain reveals and conceals the wood grain at different junctures. As is the case in with other examples of Ballantyne’s work, we are reminded that there is always more than meets the eye, even though there is much that does meet it.

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