Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Donnie & Travis

Pierre et Gilles, Gilbert & George, and now... Donnie & Travis. The Williamsburg-based couple got their bearings by printing for Ryan McGinley and styling performers such as Fischerspooner. Now, they transform their talent into a fine art practice.

The artists photograph their friends, mostly queer, and then print the photos on silk, using a cyanotype process. They embellish the image with embroidery and then design a space around the figure with washes of textile dye, producing a foggy, murky space that feels substantial and claustrophobic around the featherweight, ghostlike figures. Most figures are alone, but some interact in ambiguous activities with mates.

Donnie & Travis argue that these are not paintings, because a) no paint is used, b) the process is more textile than painterly, and c) you can wash the piece you collect. (We're unsure how many collectors wash their collections, but okay.) Of course, painting has encompassed so many variations in pigment vehicles: watercolor, oil, acrylic, enamel, wax, and tempera - not to mention urine, feces, and blood. D&T seem to have a narrow definition of "paint," which can be an obstacle. Moreover, they stretch the silk like canvas, and exhibit and distribute the work in a tradition occupied by painting.

Andy Warhol began portraits with a print and then applied pigment. However, his portraits are monumental faces in abstract, high key spaces. D&T are different because their subjects are people and not just identities, and because the environments around them are more like tangible landscapes, even if unspecific. Moreover, the mood in their scenes brings them closer to the decadent dreaminess of someone like Hernan Bas.

Among other embroidery artists, Michael Raedecker achieves a more acute sensitivity and technical aptitude and Ghada Amer makes a stronger assertion about sexuality. Orly Cogan is playfully perverse and more flexible with materials. However, D&T seem to be on an upward wave. They recently completed a High Desert Test Site project, and are preparing a group show of textile-based work to follow their own debut show.

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