ARTnewsNovember 1, 2011
The show “Pog-an-ee” consisted of the painting/photograph hybrids that Gwenn Thomas made in the ’90s. She would first assemble small colored collages using paper strips, corrugated plastic board, and packing tape, and then photograph them in black and white with an 8-by-10 camera. After the images were developed on very fine linen that was coated with photographic emulsion, she would stretch the linen, producing what could be defined as a snapshot masquerading as a painting. The ostensibly original object—a handmade collage—thus became what Thomas calls “a means to an end, like a photographic negative.”
Even though the photographs faithfully reproduce the shadows created by overlapping collage pieces, the images’ silvery tones transform the explorations of colors and textures into serene and homogeneous surfaces. They seem to float on linen that is resolutely flat. In her ghostly echoes of once-tangible objects, Thomas summed up multiple memories of classical abstraction. Her compositions here were reminiscent of collages by Anne Ryan, paintings by Piet Mondrian and Gene Davis, fabric designs by Sonia Delaunay, and weaving by Anni Albers.
Kino III (1994), for example, is a quiet gray grid that brings to mind Mondrian’s brightly colored rectangles, while Awning (1994) and Flag (1993) could be bleached-out versions of Davis’s glowing stripes. With their multiple activated circular shapes,Pog-an-ee I and Pog-an-ee II (both 1996), whose titles play on Brancusi’s sculpture Mademoiselle Pogany, also seem to echo the Dadaist machine-based forms in paintings by Picabia and Duchamp.
Countering the air of mischievous masquerade, the visible edges of the sometimes tilted works make their photographic origins clear. A series of elegantly melancholy paradoxes ensues. Constructivist abstract objects discovered through an intuitive process are mechanically reproduced, and conventional abstract images originally invented to negate representation become representations in themselves.
– Elisabeth Kley