Recent times have seen the growing popularity of the mega-installation, artistic constructions so huge that equally enormous museum spaces, like the new main galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, are being designed simply to display them. Hammering Man already has lots of company, and more is on the way. Giant-size is in.
Two artists who work at the other extreme of scale are currently on display in Pioneer Square. Here with our review is KUOW art critic, Gary Faigin.
Obsession is not a character trait you’d necessarily want in a boyfriend or a next-door neighbor, but its something we accept in an artist. It makes sense that someone who chooses the road-less-traveled of art is often driven there by a nagging inner compulsion.
The drawings of Mark Meyer and the prints of Osamu Saito give every indication of being created in response to this sort of personal urgency. On sheets of paper the size of a letter or a party invitation, these two artists create worlds bristling with significant shapes and fantastic constructions. No detail is spared to embroider their particular visions, and a magnifying glass in the hand of a viewer would not be out of the question. Besides being utterly labor-intensive, these miniature scenarios also share a mutual point of departure — the world of science, and the way very very small things can inform our perception of the larger world around us.
In the case of Mark Meyer, whose madcap drawings fill the back room of Davidson Gallery, the influence of science comes naturally. A true Renaissance man, Dr. Meyer received his PhD in neurobiology, an arcane specialty whose influence is everywhere apparent in a certain fondness for diagrams, formulas, and amoebas. His resume includes both a long list of exhibitions and descriptions of his scientific accomplishments, like recent work isolating the neurotoxic peptides in insect venom. But of course!
Meyer seems to see drawing as another tool for exploring and characterizing the universe, and if he wishes to find links between discoveries made in the studio and discoveries made in the laboratory, well, so did Leonardo da Vinci. In fact Leonardo’s notebooks are very distant predecessors of these several dozen jam-packed sheets, filled with doodles, charts, narratives, and marginalia. A distinctly post-industrial Leonardo, to be sure, as befits an age when inner discoveries are often more valued than outer ones.
The heart of the action in many of the works — the discovered landscape, as it were — is a colorful central rectangle where cellular life is in visible motion. Here Meyer creates a whizzing abstract field with a variety of techniques, sometimes spattered paint, sometimes oceanic squiggles, sometimes illegible clouds of handwriting. On top of this field go the amoebas, the printed circuit diagrams, the Russian constructivist geometrical shapes, and the crazed tiny wriggling humanoids reminiscent of underground comics or certain sketches of Salvador Dali. The surrounding white space contains commentary in the form of sentence fragments, arrows, labels, more drawings from the microscope, doodles, and helpful explanatory diagrams.
The work is as cryptic in overt meaning as a scientific paper on monoclonal antibodies (another area of Meyer’s expertise). But the witty shapes, neon colors, and manic energy creates a convincing sense of a mysterious, Lilliputian universe exploding within, and providing the motive force for, the familiar world of the everyday.
Around the corner at the Bryan Ohno Galery, another tiny universe has been brought to engaging life by a Japanese wood engraver named Osamu Saito, here having his first US show.
Where Meyer starts with biology, Saito is beguiled by geology. In these dark, obsessively detailed prints, the process by which chemicals begin to merge into the crystals that make rock is seemingly caught in mid-stride. Hundreds of meticulously engraved bubbles the size of sesame seeds collect deep within the earth and slowly morph into mineral plates. There is a feeling of claustrophobia and immense stretches of time, relieved by occasional glimpses of the sky and the stars. Many of Saito’s prints preserve the irregular shape of the tree trunk they are carved from, making even more vivid the sense of worlds within worlds.
Both art and science reward those patient enough to peer beneath the surface of ordinary life. These two artists make us too want to make the journey.