As a child, Adrienne French's parents joked about her "eagle eyes" that lead her to continual fascination with the visual quirks of everyday objects, like the wood grain of pencils. Now, with Chronos Chrysalis, an exhibition of her photographs at Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery, she invites viewers to try to see the overlooked things of our lived environments with all the loving intensity with which she does.
All of French's images depict outdoor structures in urban zones of Ohio, Florida, and in one case, South Carolina. They are buildings and equipment which have had time to settle into their neighborhood, and then some. Paint flakes and bubbles, rust creeps, graffiti dissents. The point is not another commentary on the decline of cities, but on the aesthetic dignity of the works of time.
Nonetheless, viewers will recognize the subjects of French's images for the decayed downtown artifacts that they are—splintery garage doors and pieces of machinery studded with rivets. However, recognition can take a second, or more. French shot them from an alien perspective that, through extreme close-up or painstaking framing, reduces complex tools and architecture into simpler geometric patterns, mosaics of cracks or splashes, or fields of color.
In "Red, Orange, Tan and Purple + Blue," honey-colored glass glows in a bulge of blue and violet cast metal. Teal, gold, neon pink and purple dance on the loading dock in "Threshold".
It is by these hidden forms that French rebuilds the world from the ground up. She draws us into it with color, which makes us never want to leave.
The pictures were shot during the "golden hours" right after sunrise and before sunset, so as to draw out the richest possible color from surfaces. The results are revelatory. The colors have the purity and energy of some pieces of pop art, but instead of critiquing the enforced happiness of mass culture, French's images are expressions of the joy of finding beauty hiding in neglected places.
In "Faith," the sky and a wall become a red stripe stretching underneath a blank blue rectangle, bisected by the diagonal line of an industrial pipe. Another cloudless sky backdrops "Bomb Pop," in which the criss-cross beams of a pylon turn from lobster orange into whiteness dripping with icicles as the structure rises into the air.
In most exhibitions, the show's hanging—the position and order in which pictures are affixed to the wall—does not warrant comment. That is not the case here. Clusters of photographs are hung in groups which draw attention to visual themes embedded in individual images.
For example: Some sort of industrial platform with a chain dangling from a gear is painted with solid orange in "Connection Number 6." "Archipelago" presents a joint of metal casting a shovel-shaped shadow onto a larger surface; both objects are blue-blue with paint that is cracking into scale patterns. A "T"-shape of rivets lays sideways in the blood red "Rivet Refraction."
The bold, pure color of each image is lovely and fascinating enough by itself. However, when the three are arranged next to each other from in a row—as they are in the Lesko gallery—together the trio becomes another instance of the blue-orange or blue-red color pairing French used in "Faith," "Bomb Pop," and elsewhere.
The show's arrangement makes the whole exhibit feel coherent and open in a way few shows do. But it is of course informed by French's project, which draws us in just like it did the gallerists. She lets us see into a heaven of pigments through the "eagle eyess".
Chronos Chrysalis will run through March 9 at 1305 West 80th St. For more information, call 216-631-6719 or go to kennethpaullesko.com.
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