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Walk a mile in my shoe: Marie Triller's Shoe, Delaware Avenue.

Diversity and Detritus
By David Brickman

Harold Lohner & Marie Triller
Firlefanz Gallery, through May 14

The third and final invitational exhibit based on last summer’s Mohawk-Hudson Regional opened last week just as the deadline for submissions to the next regional passed, making for an endless cycle that embodies the centrality of this event in the local art scene. Featuring two often underappreciated media, photography and printmaking, Harold Lohner & Marie Triller at Firlefanz Gallery is a hip pairing of mid-career artists who, despite having deep and wide local roots, have not gotten the exposure they deserve hereabouts.

Hence, it is a rare and welcome opportunity to examine these two in greater depth—it is also a very handsome yet playful exhibition, further testimony to the standard of quality and viewer- friendliness already established by Firlefanz in its short 13-month existence. Lohner, the printmaker, creates colorful monoprints, many of them pretty big and/or combined together into quite large-scale pieces. Triller’s photographs are modest in scale and digitally manipulated to the extent that they begin to look like some other medium—watercolor, perhaps.

Possibly due to the difference in scale, Lohner somewhat overshadows Triller in this installation. His large, dark, gestural studies of male faces and bodies, printed fully to the deckled edges of the paper and mounted unframed to the gallery’s bright yellow walls jump right out at you, grabbing and holding your attention. Triller’s work requires a more quiet contemplation that is not so easily accessed here—but, if found, will reward the attentive viewer’s efforts.

Lohner’s contribution to the show will surely be a revelation for all but the most connected local art lovers. He has emerged from semi-seclusion to produce a powerful burst of work, all of it classifiable as portraiture, but with a presence that transcends that of the identifiable subjects. In other words, these images are of certain people, but they are not merely about them. Rather, they are about artistic and social concerns, including the purely physical aspects of light, color, texture and form, as well as the conceptual aspect of exploring and revealing gay issues.

But this is not political work. By presenting a world of only men, sometimes in clearly homoerotic terms, Lohner asks us to confront everyday gay reality in the bodies and faces of these individual human beings—people just like the rest of us in their emotions and diversity. The fact that he does it with such a deft hand only adds a potent artistic experience to the experience of recognition that is the work’s strongest contribution.

Two examples stand out for me. One is a series of five matched prints, each a vertical pair with a sensitive portrait above and a reflection of that face upside-down below. The subtle, seductive rainbow of colors in this set, combined with the remarkably expressive visages, makes the display irresistible. It demonstrates as well as anything in the show just what refined skills Lohner possesses.

The other outstanding example is actually several pieces—at least eight or nine—that will likely be a new form for many viewers. Those are the artist’s books that Lohner has created by combining bunches of prints together in various ways—as folios, scrolls, complicated foldouts and accordions. Not only do they allow—no, encourage—the viewer to get involved in a hands-on way with the work, they also become marvelous physical objects in themselves, barely containable in this tiny space.

Triller is a photographer whose control over the digital medium is unusually advanced. A few prints I saw of hers in a recent digital exhibition at Union College were stunningly sharp and rich, betraying nothing of their source in pixels. But in this show Triller has chosen to go the other way, softening and blurring the edges and surfaces of her subjects nearly to the limit of recognizability.

The content of the work would be best described as detritus—objects found along the way that have been so weathered as to be already well along the road to transformation that Triller then continues. Cigarette packs, newspapers, beer cans, an old shoe—these are all objects of fascination for Triller. And, though they are more trash than treasure by any standard, she feels compelled to give them a place of honor in her photographs, conferring on them a dignity and respect they may never have had even before being discarded.

In many of these pieces, the color seems almost completely sucked out of the subject; conversely, in just as many, it appears that the color may have been added. Either way, the emphasis is more on texture, as the crumpled objects are enlarged a little or a lot, then flattened into the picture plane, which is itself made quite flat by being shot dead-on, without converging perspective. Tilted up onto the gallery wall, these details made by looking straight down become iconic—or they would if not for the wateriness of it all.

I’ll admit, this is a bit vexing for me. I wonder why Triller has eliminated the sharpness of the images. Would they work better if she hadn’t? Or is she just having fun, experimenting and expanding her medium in the direction of painting? That in itself is nothing bad, but it bothers the purist in me. If you want to make a photograph, make a photograph, I say—if you want to paint, paint. Triller breaks the rules by doing neither thing, really, but mixing the two so equally that we have no choice but to surrender, to accept her decision.

The lack of clarity becomes a metaphor for lack of a clear intention. But that is imposing a standard onto Triller that may be inappropriate. Sometimes you have to let go of preconceived ideas, and just let the artist lead you. We don’t have to like it, but it suggests another possible intention of Triller’s: She could be telling us to just lighten up and enjoy the show.


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