map: Dorman’s Ladders.
Over the Map
George Arts Project Courthouse Gallery, through June 17
Remember that kid in your fourth-grade class, a couple rows
over and toward the back who used to draw, like, all
the time? That kid could have been Josh Dorman. And, as represented
in a solo show at the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse
Gallery, Dorman is still that kid
Endlessly doodling and fantasizing—but most of the time now
on a slightly grander scale—Dorman is best introduced by a
group of 32 unframed drawings pinned to one wall of the gallery.
Dated 2001-2005 and of a modest size determined by the paper
used (mostly antique ledger-book pages, stained with age),
these drawings provide a sort of key to Dorman’s lexicon of
forms. They include fragments of landscapes, skeletons, volcanoes
and other mountain forms, imaginary vehicles, microscopic
organisms, clouds, roads and bridges, birds and animals, surrealistic
shadows, lakes, trees, swamps, cartoony concoctions and unrecognizable
There are also collage elements suggested here, particularly
by two pieces that are drawn onto found images of exotic landscapes;
in Dorman’s more developed pieces throughout the rest of the
gallery, this method is oft repeated, and just as often drawings
like those on the big wall are glued into bigger pictures.
The majority of the larger works are constructed upon topographic
maps and/or built with fragments of such maps.
This layering and interaction is essential to Dorman’s process,
as is the playfulness he brings by incorporating words, often
punning, and odd juxtapositions within his visual iconography.
It is an intuitional more than a planned way of working—comparable
to a jazz player riffing on a saxophone—and it leads to images
that are open to interpretation.
Given that the drawings and paintings are on maps, and that
many of them explicitly depict hills and valleys, one is tempted
to categorize them as landscapes. But watch out—Dorman’s statement
specifically states that they are not, at least not in the
classical sense. He writes, “My goal is not to depict the
way light plays on the treetops, but I do want to get inside
to see the rings of the trees, explore the structure of the
roots and branches, understand the bark,” and in so doing
he lets us know that this work is done from the inside out.
Definitely not Thomas Cole.
A typical Dorman piece in this show begins with an old map,
rippling with topographical lines. Dorman follows the lines
with his pen or brush, obliterating, creating new shapes,
and eventually pulling the flat landscape depicted on the
surveyor’s grid back out into three-dimensional space, with
foreground, middle ground and background. Along the way, he
may add naturalistic or more imaginary colors, as well as
any number of his signature animals, trees, lakes, buildings,
machines, etc. Often, there are precipitous mountains in the
distance, and the buildings can take on an ominous presence
as factories or infernal contraptions.
The result can be fun, beautiful, mysterious or all three
at once. Certain pieces go pretty wild with the colors—Pink
Mountain (2003) features pink, turquoise, ruby, purple
and ochre—while others, such as The Babocomari Mountain
Works (2001), stay muted in the greens, browns, grays
and blues of a natural scene. One piece, titled Tiny City
(2001), has placed a distant, detailed metropolis where Gloversville
appears on the map; it is nestled in a beautiful patchwork
of fields and beyond it is a majestic purple peak. Though
Dorman lives in Brooklyn, the local reference is not a fluke—in
fact, there are many of them here—as he studied at Skidmore
and still teaches there summers.
In addition to the many map-based drawings in the show, Dorman
includes several more painterly works on canvas. One of those,
Spindling Sky (2004), features a low horizon line (the
sea, apparently), above which glimmers a sky of neither day
nor night, with odd shapes floating in it (perhaps a vision
of one-celled underwater creatures). The yellows, pinks, purples
and blues of the painting are mixed with white, giving them
a creamy consistency and a pretty softness that I find appealing
but that is not typical of the rest of the work in the show.
I suspect Dorman is taking care not to come off as too decorative.
More typical of the style represented here overall is a very
large piece aptly titled Everything There Is (2005),
in which the additive, random process dominates a Brueghel-like
scene of chaos and intensity. Though one laughingly recognizes
a whole lot of stuff in the picture, including a lovingly
rendered nest with eggs and a silhouetted beast with its skeleton
revealed, the tongue-in-cheek title suggests that the painting’s
slyly apocalyptic vision is meant to be taken with a large
dose of humor.
It is fairly unusual for the Arts Project to mount a solo
show; Dorman’s big-city success may have had something to
do with the decision to give him such big play—but it also
reveals a weakness. In the handsome catalog produced for a
recent solo show by Dorman at New York’s CUE Foundation, there
are quite a few strong paintings represented from the same
time period that are only hinted at by the work shown here.
I don’t know if they were sold or what—but it seems that Dorman
did not put his best foot forward in the exhibition at Lake
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through June
These 10 gelatin silver prints by Rob O’Neil from
a body of work titled Projections make
a nice addition to the [Re]collections show,
as they also use historical artifacts in interesting
and transformative configurations.
O’Neil, who teaches at the College of Saint Rose,
has strong technique and an idea that transcends
being a gimmick. By projecting the images from
antique educational lantern slides, then staging
scenes in front of them and photographing the
set-ups, he creates layered, storylike representations
of his thoughts. Some are more literal, others
more surreal, but all of them have interesting
In this series, the slides show industrial subjects:
a dam, a mine, a harbor, a grain elevator, etc.
O’Neil adds related objects and interjects an
arm or a profile (in one case, half a figure)
as a sort of everyman researcher on the job. This
hand often holds glass lab equipment or a lit
match, like a scientist might.
My favorite is called Ice. In it, a view
of a boat in arctic waters is augmented by block
and tackle much like the boat’s rigging, creating
a nice illusion of continuity. In all the prints,
which are large for photographs, O’Neil’s excellent
black-and-white printing adds to the effect. The
display offers a nice opportunity to see a substantial
body of work by one of the area’s better photographers.