Ever pressed flesh with a machine? Scrunched your fat ass or angular cheekbone up against a copier's glass and pushed "start?" If you have, then Dallas artist John Pomara believes you're in a particularly good position to appreciate his art and his commentary on a technology-based culture and its struggle to remain human.
"The content of my work is mechanical reproduction and personal gesture at the same time," Pomara says, explaining that he has been focusing on the transformation of photocopier images for some time. And he's certainly not the only one interested in exploring how technology can test the boundaries of art.
Apart from his life as an artist -- he has an upcoming show at Barry Whistler Gallery in Deep Ellum -- Pomara teaches art at the University of Texas at Dallas. Two of his more nontraditional students, Angela White and Michelle Ganeles, have a new show of their work up at another local college, Irving's University of Dallas. Pomara's own work spills over into his teaching, and his influence can be noted in White and Ganeles' Blink exhibition at the campus' Haggar Gallery. Their artwork is digitally manipulated photography, crafted by experimenting with photomechanical techniques. Both women reference Pomara as a mentor and friend, and their approaches and philosophies about art are equally simple, but they come to making art from very different places.
Ganeles says a three-year dalliance with Dallas and New York gallerist Eugene Binder introduced her to the world of art, although she had always been interested in photography. "I worked in the fashion business -- modeling -- for about 10 years and was very transient," the 37-year-old Dallas native says. "I went to Germany, Chicago, wherever the work was." When she landed in Dallas again in 1990, she took art classes at Brookhaven Community College and the University of Texas at Dallas, including traditional drawing, painting, and sculpture, along with courses in computer graphics and photography.
"I worked with great photographers," she says of her modeling career, "so that's how I really learned photography." She hit it off with Pomara, whom she considers a friend as well as a teacher. "I took his painting class first," she says; she later took a video class, editing class, and computer design class. "I always wanted to find a way to combine all that."
Ganeles' "Blue.com" is the first, prominently placed image in "Blink." It's a 3-by-4-foot digital print that looks as though it could be a colorized still from Dallas artist Brian Fridge's well-known ice crystals series on video. A large, dazzling mound of white, near-crystalline substance is centered over a bright, process-blue field. "I work very intuitively," Ganeles says, describing how she likes the color or texture or simple "feel" of her work over more serious content. "For me, the significance is trying to use machines -- scanners, copiers, and technical equipment -- to paint with."
For "High Frequency," Ganeles took a video camera to a rural Texas carnival, returning day after day to film the carnival workers. "They thought I was a narc," she remembers, laughing. The 4-by-5-foot print vibrates with a rippling, textured image in blues and aquas, while subtle, blurred grids in soft orange and tan weave into the foreground. "The flesh tones are actually hands and fingers of one of the carnival workers," Ganeles says. She chose this image by cropping into a paused, slow-motion frame of the video. "I ran it back from the TV monitor, shot it on a throw-away camera, scanned it, printed it, cropped it, and blew it up big," she says. In "Pink Thing" and "Zipper," Ganeles works from scanned photographs. Printer streaks and roller marks become faded lightning bolts in cobalt blue after Ganeles manipulates her images. "You can do tricks with the technology," she says.
Angela White has had more consistent schooling in art than Ganeles, although now she's taken to auditing classes rather than pursuing a degree. She cops to Pomara's influence, yet her images are figurative and very human. Only the technique and manipulation is mechanical. She's 10 years younger than Ganeles, and a single mother of a 7-year-old. She teaches part-time, parents full time, and makes art every day. All of her images in Blink are manipulated portraits of herself as a child, or of her daughter. Most pulsate with neon-bright, unnatural colors a la Andy Warhol's portraits, but two black-and-white works hold their own in content and composition. White prints her 4-by-4-foot images on 48 clear transparencies and carefully mounts them together.
White's "Blister" is haunting but simple, a tightly cropped image of a child with stark, dark eyelashes and deep blue eyes -- all digitally enhanced. Across the child's mouth is a blue-gray bar that has a bit of a sheen, like metal, even after photo-manipulation. She has pushed the contrast in this inkjet print on transparency film so that the skin and backgrounds are bright white, evaporating any lines, colors, or textures. It's a spectacular color-saturation and posterization effect that she repeats with nearly as much impact in "Dollface" and "Leviathan." In "Leviathan," the little girl is back, wearing a sand pail for a hat and holding up a magenta hand with fingers outstretched. Her face is hot pink as well, and White has cropped the image so that the girl's two dark eyes are slipping off the bottom of the print. White says she uses a zoom tool to decide where to crop and to find "what strikes me as the fundamental part of the image." The child, she confesses, is herself in 1973-'74 photos in all the works except "Dollface," which features her daughter.
White says her love of photography comes from her father, who was a hobbyist and took White on frequent rambling "shoots" all through her childhood. "I want to give a hint of a reminder that these are just moments, and they are mine. They're everywhere, and they happen every day," White says. One of her present moments is captured in "Waxed Paper," a black-and-white inkjet print that shows White's legs from the knees down decorated with tattoo-like drawings her daughter made. "I started making work in black and white and then went on to color," she says. "I enjoy both, but I think there is a different pace. The colors make the images more surreal, weirder."
Blink is the first focused show of White's and Ganeles' work, and both women express a genuine commitment to pursuing art careers. They seem eager to break into the art world, and a two-person show in a college art gallery is as good a place to start as any. UD's Haggar Gallery is certainly off the beaten path -- way off -- of the Dallas or Fort Worth art set. Still, Blink makes a solidly strong statement for the artists and for the University of Dallas. University venues used to exhibit only the work of their students and faculty, gaining a kind of vanity-venue reputation that wasn't taken too seriously by the non-campus art crowd. More and more, campus gallery directors find artists to exhibit in the same way commercial gallerists do -- they look anywhere and everywhere for good art. John Pomara has been beefing up the offerings at UTD's campus gallery and using his connections as a credible Dallas artist to attract quality shows there. Pomara has a right to be proud of these two students. But wouldn't it make more sense if he'd tagged them to show at UTD?
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