Modern Minimalism: The Art of #TRACKSTARS at Punch Gallery

Jeremy Buben
Posted on May 27, 2013, 2:00 pm
9 mins

The collective known as #TRACKSTARS is back with a show of highly polished minimalist work at Punch Gallery in the Tashiro-Kaplan Building. The collective is a pair of Seattle artists, Dylan Neuwirth and Jeff ‘Raven’ Gerber. This is their second show this year, and both shows have drawn inspiration from the same subject: a type of reportage on street scenes refined and abstracted, and presented in a minimalist style that is rarely seen in Seattle.

The Punch show is titled Based and is tightly curated by the artists themselves. The minimalist aesthetic reflects the contemporary art that inspires them and reacts to the maximalist art of Chihuly, for whom they work. #Trackstars’ January show, New End- Dangerous Times at Bherd Studios, was full of large paintings composed of layers upon layers of black paint, built up over many months on large boards. Both artists present three pieces in Based. They are labor intensive yet highly refined, maintaining a clear connection to the last show while breaking from it visually.

Both members of #Trackstars have been hard at work for a solid two years now, showing multiple times while refining their style. This past summer, Neuwirth mounted two solo shows of epic proportions, bringing an 18-foot diameter neon rainbow titled NOW to the Bumbershoot Arts Festival as well as a collection of smaller neon works and sculpture in glass and metal to a show at UrbanAdd. Gerber put on his own show at CoCA’s Belltown sidewalk gallery: portraits on alcohol bottles created during long trips installing Chihuly projects. Both have used the term “gutter glam” to describe their work—elements of grit and struggle presented in a glossy, brightly lit manner.

For a first time viewer, the Punch show is a polarizing experience, and something that I wanted to see firsthand. Upon my request, the artists arranged for me to gallery sit, and one Thursday (May 16) I made an afternoon of sitting behind the small desk at the back of the gallery as visitors came through. I had hoped that this would be a dramatic experience, but with only twelve total visitors it was mostly a chance for me to quietly reflect on the work between guests—who would often spend less than a minute in the gallery to take in the art.

Photograph of the Based show at Punch Gallery courtesy of Nathaniel Wilson Photography

With only six works in the small Prefontaine gallery, the space looks large.  The stark white walls and concentrated lighting give each piece a museum-worthy feel, aided by a conspicuous lack of signage.

Upon entering the gallery, Neuwirth’s sculpture of a bike frame chained to a pole titled “As Above So Below” is the first thing that alerts you that you are not in a typical art show. The sculpture is deceiving in its perceived simplicity; it is an all too familiar scene of a bike picked clean and left to its most basic locked up components. However, what is easily overlooked are the slight variations in proportion in the chain, lock and frame handcrafted by the artist. The minimal sculpture continues on the floor with “Unite the Fallen,” where 6 pairs of Neuwirth’s work jeans have been painted, epoxied and clear-coated and placed on cinder blocks. Each pair of jeans had been worn for 2 to 3 years before being painted. The piece nods to the working lifestyle that enables the artist to make his own art in off hours and it is arranged in a grouping that adds a ritualistic quality. Neuwirth’s third sculpture is the most jarring: a haphazardly placed trio of glass tubes on a board nailed to the wall.  Everything about the work looks gritty, the tubes being hand blown crack pipes in the letters “LOL”—the apt title of the piece—and the board salvaged from a nearby alley.

Gerber’s three painted works are use techniques that make them feel more like sculptures than paintings. At the far end of the gallery are two nearly identical, large, glossy black rectangles titled “Hood Mirror 67 {{{SS}}}” and “Hood Mirror 77 {{{Voyager}}}.” The underlying board has been meticulously made into a box, covered with Bondo—a compound used in car repair to smooth surfaces and hide blemishes—and primed and painted multiple times. The process is nearly identical to what one would do to restore a car—methodical and deliberate steps that yield a smooth glossy surface, essentially a mirror. The finished reflective surface is an open statement to how Gerber views the hopes and dreams of the people he grew up around, who engaged in the pastime of restoring cars. In a conversation with the artist, he mentioned that often the cars would never move past the primered state, even though the men would have much loftier, glossy ideas of the car of their dreams. Gerber’s last work is a small square, done in much the same way as the larger black rectangles, but left in a state that is unfinished—primer and paint sanded flat with streaks of Bondo showing through. This is titled Become and it is the genesis for the Hood Mirrors, as well as a piece that seems more squarely based in reality.

The show appears underwhelming at first, but with a long look at the work, the pieces become reflections of the truths that the artists set out to make. Coming from dark subject matter, these works are surprisingly resilient in the tone they take. A silent spiritual quality is transferred to the minimalist pieces and their arrangement in the gallery sends a clear message that they have deeper meanings.  The viewer is given almost no information, aside from the enigmatic titles on a paper sheet to accompany the show, and is asked to interpret the works through personal context. For me the stripped chrome bike is a familiar scene in urban settings, and the crack pipes a message of addiction, apathy and self-absorption in modern culture and how these things relate to each other. One can stare deeply and meditatively into the black hood mirrors. The glossy paint filters one’s vague reflection, a statement for me on how we never really see ourselves clearly.

It isn’t often that minimalist sculpture is given a whole gallery to exhibit in. No overly decorated works detract from the stark refined sculptures, and the gallery is void of objects to disrupt the reflections in the black panels.  #Trackstars will continue making their work, a need that propels the artists to explore their creative reaches, and I think we will see that this show is a strong indication of work to come. It may not look the same, but it will speak to the same themes.

Jeremy Buben goes to art galleries, museums, performance dance shows and the best gumbo restaurants in Seattle. All of the time. You can read more of his suggested events and short subject posts at his blog Le Dandysme.

Jeremy Buben
Jeremy Buben goes to art galleries, museums, performance dance shows and the best gumbo restaurants in Seattle. All of the time. You can read more of his suggested events and short subject posts at his blog Le Dandysme.

One Response to: Modern Minimalism: The Art of #TRACKSTARS at Punch Gallery