Subliminal Grids: Visiting Professor McDougal Presents Minimalist Pop Art

Matthew Sprung, Staff Writer

“Interesting parties please.” The humorous sentiment winked at the viewer from a screen print, the tiny text nestled between large, black grids that hid even more text, half-visible.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Studio Art Graham McDougal held an opening reception of his screen print exhibition at the Baron Gallery last Friday. Curated in minimalist style, dozens of small prints lined the walls of Baron, most requiring the visitors to lean in to fully appreciate the texture and contents. When closely inspected, the prints revealed intricate layering and surprisingly two-dimensional objects, some of which appeared to sink into the paper or jut out of it. The layers compelled the viewer to find answers within the powerfully subliminal essence of each work.

The prints were made on paper sized about 11 by 17 inches in length, slightly longer than a standard letter. The first wall in the gallery showcased 15 prints, all of which were predominantly black, situated side-by-side, centered and running horizontally. From a distance, with an inch separating each print, the works combined to produce a digital-looking black barcode across the wall. On top of each piece of paper were layers of printmaking material that produced varying grids in different shades of white to gray to black, all on a black surface. The pieces were reminiscent of a patterned tire: a mixture of rubber, smoothness and texture.

Each grid varied like snowflake patterns, yet together they held firm an intrinsic continuity of form throughout the show. The pieces manipulated grid size and layered forms and color, as circular white shapes stood out against the black background, all within a continuous grid. The organic forms contrasted the mechanic grids that created a tension between technology and humanity.

An important aspect of the relationship McDougal sought to convey between media was that of art and language. Under, over and between grids and shapes, obscured text shone within blurred fonts and partially conceivable messages. A recurring piece of text that was not obscured stated, “Black Whiskey.” Other text included serial numbers and dates, simultaneously confusing and illuminating the commonality between technological and human cognition. Perhaps part of the artist’s intention was to mock the arbitrary nature of what we choose to communicate via text.

The two most radiant works were not on paper, but prints on a blocked–wood canvas of a similar size. Gesso had been used as a primer for the wood, giving the surface a glowing quality. The black sparkled as if not yet dry, with grids noticeably raised from the surface. Two white rings looked like large rings of smoke made out of dripping candle wax, hovering in the center of the darkness.

The theme of grids seemed to serve as a symbol for of the systematization of life and its natural variations. Optimism in order was not to be found, contrasted in the oblique blackness of the works. Instead, it was the disorder of the organic forms, in varying white and grays, that offered a feeling of escape from the suppressing grid.