Work Blends Visual and Tactile Language to Create a Self-Conscious Gallery Experience

In Stephen Lapthispophon’s exhibition at Conduit Gallery (up through February 12), found objects are scattered throughout – a file cabinet, chairs, a turned-over crate bearing with white plates, a beaten up bookshelf. There is also a long shelf that takes up the entirety of a gallery wall and holds various species of potatoes in various stages of germination and rot. These objects are spatial interruptions, and it is an instance where knowing the artist’s story (Lapthispophon has been legally blind since 1994) assists our interpretation of his intent. In the exhibition, you must navigate around these ordinary household items as if you were grasping your way through a dark room. Look up, and you see a reproduction of a photo of a Spanish storefront plopped on the ledge of one of the gallery’s walls. What’s it doing up there, we ask ourselves. Its placement is as much about drawing attention to the traditional confines of the sanitized gallery space as it is about surprising us, forcing us to participate, in a way, in the experience of continually confronting the unexpected.

The show’s installation elements are curious, but it is Lapthispophon’s work on the walls that duly deserves the lion’s share of our attention. They are energetic, often violent works, primarily composed of quickly rendered black strokes interrupted by touches of color. Some paintings contain spray painted letters, others washes of color with letters – legible and illegible, frontwards and backwards – scribbled liberally through the canvas’ space. In one moment Lapthispophon is a graffiti-version of Robert Motherwell, in the next, a neon Basquiat trying to paint Dan Flavin sculptures with spray paint. The artist also gives us a Mondrian imitation, only the color-gridded painting, those characteristic black lines, right angles, and color fields, are painted on a shirt or a smock. Is Lapthispophon nodding to the mantle of influence or trying to recreate a work by an artist he loves in a form that he can still enjoy and participate in – by literally wearing it?

collaboration with Kristin Mariani, 37x22”

The strength in Lapthispophon’s work is how well it translates the action of the artist into visual language, yet its expressionism continually refers back to a conceptual project. The show is called Spelling Lesson, and Lapthispophon’s jumbled text – sometimes his reversed name, sometimes incoherent non-words – constitutes one of the many ways the artist forces the viewer to confront the coherence of a space constructed with a variety of stimuli, from the feel of potatoes skins to the exertion of a paintbrush’s wild stroke. Visual language becomes tactile information, syllables in a self-conscious experience that is always reminding you that you are experiencing it.

Image: Stephen Lapthisophon, Name, 2010; ink & coffee on paper, 22×30”        

All photos courtesy of Conduit Gallery