In Echo, the new exhibition at Arts Collinwood, staffers took a chance on paintings that are not only figurative, but also are created by young, emerging practitioners. Kyle Dean Todaro and Steve Basel are 2012 Cleveland Institute of Art grads and former roommates with similar aesthetic tastes. Collinwood's gamble pays off, as the two artists repeat in the fine arts something that has come to dominate low culture: the mashup.
In their scenes, persons and objects of different times and places are sliced out of unseen contexts and contained on one canvas. But each artist uses this spatial anarchy to different ends.
In Basel's "The Café," above, a pair of mimes occupy the center of the canvas. One lies supine, with a hand draped over his chest, miming a wound. The second squats, gesturing toward his stricken friend and pleading for help. Surrounding them are slices of scenes cut from the world's coffee shops. A girl texts. A man rifles through papers. Another man, within the begging mime's line of sight, sits at a table with one chair and three cups, his arms crossed in his lap.
The collage-like composition and the bizarreness of the clowns undercut the tension that such a scene might invoke. But this was Basel's intention. He does not want the audience to believe in his scenario, but to provoke them to wonder how they would react to it. He wishes to create a nonjudgmental space for examinations of character.
Todaro's work feels more narrative-driven. In his "Bellona Belladonna," two suited men — one sitting with his tie knotted, the other standing with his tie undone — are drinking. It is easy to imagine them as the same man, in two progressive states of drunkenness and despair. In "Momentary," a black Honda sprawls dead with a smashed engine bay. To the right, a young woman ascends a rough wooden staircase. Her face is fixed in a scowl, but her eyes are bright as if they are searching. Her jeans are half concealed by the canvas, suggesting that her next step will propel her right out of the painting.
Whether or not the car and the climber are related, they work together to make us sense approaching shame. It's a nifty way to lead viewers into examining their own post-modern lives.
Echo continues on display through August 5 at 15605 Waterloo Rd. For more information, call 216-692-9500 or go to artscollinwood.org.