Last night I stopped by the Launch Gallery aka Hallway to see the first show of the season. It was only by chance that I found the posting on Facebook for the opening of Colin Prahl’s new body of work entitled “Edge Detection.” I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect other than the fact that I knew it would be 2-D work, since that is the only type of work that can fit in this space.
When I arrived, it was empty, but I knew it wasn’t a reflection on the work, just the gallery. The front space, which has the window to the street, featured oil paintings with shapes resembling feathers and tree trunks in red, white, and blue. I was not captivated, but when I turned the corner my interest peaked and I caught myself saying outloud, “I would have hung this show completely differently.” The next series were paintings that I deduced to be airbrushed. The patterns he chose for these works I found intriguing, but also not too busy. They had a very unique quality that I very much appreciated and felt that these should have been featured in the front, especially since this was the work used to represent the show in the little press that was done. I like there there is a feel of photo realism because there isn’t any brush stroke. Some of these reminded me of a postcard I have on the back of my door taken of an installation by Olafur Eliasson. The water mist in Eliasson’s work and the color hinted at in Prahl’s work are the same, giving the paintings a very iridescent quality as if an energy was being illuminated from the canvas.
Edge, this reminded me the back drops we had for school photos
The end of the show contained two more separate bodies of work. The first were two smaller abstract oils that were an attempt to explore texture and color. I felt Prahl was wearing someone else’s clothes for these pieces and it was nothing that hasn’t sadly already been seen a million times before. The last three were oils that took the form of mosaics and constellations. I took a liking to one, but wasn’t as impressed with these as I had been with the work in the main hallway space.
Mosaic themed and abstracted oils
Colin turned the corner and he and I got into a short conversation about his work. He “curated” the show himself and made these painting specifically for this show. I pointed out that the five air-brushed paintings were the strongest in the bunch and that if I were to recommend a path, that is the direction I would walk. It is a shame there wasn’t an overall cohesiveness in the show, because if he had chosen to go a different way the show would have looked very different. This is another missed opportunity I blame on the Gallery. Shouldn’t a space claiming to be a launching pad for emerging artists from RISD also provide some sort of guidance for the artists selected to show in this space. Prahl hasn’t even finished school yet and this time is especially important for him to learn the ropes of exhibition and being an exhibiting artist. Is it right for him to learn by leading him blindly?
Detail of Oscillator, you can see a bit of that color quality I mentioned
If I ran a space like this, I would be working with him periodically before the show, helping him with press and to make sure there was an artist statement at the door, and to be there to help hang the show. Many artists don’t have their own solo exhibition until a few years after they have graduated and they learn together through the process of participating in group exhibitions, but this poor guy was in the row boat by himself as his parents wave and toast to him from the shore. He was so excited to comment that this was his first solo exhibition, and even though it certainly wasn’t a failure, there is a lot of learn from this experience. The most important thing I hope he will learn is that the work in the show was, in my opinion, overpriced. I don’t feel that extremely emerging artists, especially before they receive their diploma, can ask for anything higher than $500 for their work. I realize that this is a very touchy subject and since I am not an artist, my opinion may receive some backlash, but the art world is a business and if an artist wants in, they much realize that in the beginning, their goal should not be making big bucks on their work, but to be sending their work out into the work into a good home. This creates a stable market for this artist’s work.
It is also important to remember the state of the economy. While auction houses still boast high sales, these buyers are very different than the people that would be visiting Launch Gallery in South Providence. There is also a difference in markets. Emerging artists work in the primary market and auctions are the tertiary market. One can not judge the state of the primary market in Providence based on what is happening anywhere else. Galleries like Cade Tompkins and One Way do a lot of leg work to find buyers outside of Rhode Island as well. Since no one is helping at Launch, perhaps an easy answer is to make this space non-commercial and eliminate the pressure for a young artist to price their own work. No one wants to think they are less valuable then they are, but it is a tough pill to swallow when the show goes unsold and you have to lower your prices. Of course, Prahl’s show will be up for several weeks and who knows what will happen. Colin Prahl is certainly not without talent and as he finds his footing, hopefully he will continue to bravely head down the opaquely veiled path as a young artist.