Paint takes on surprising new forms in Atlanta artist’s solo show

Paint takes on arresting new forms in Atlanta artist Jeff Conefry’s solo show at Marcia Wood Gallery in Castleberry Hill.

In an exhibition simply titled “Paint,” that commonplace material in the artist’s kit bag is transformed in novel ways. Don’t expect painting of the usual sort here, in which hues are dabbed or dripped onto canvas. Conefry teases out some new dimensions in acrylic paint that give this exhibition its unique look and attitude.

To create the works in “Paint,” Conefry pours acrylic paint into thick layers, so dense they can be manipulated and cut like fabric or cookie dough. Instead of applying paint to canvas in the usual manner, Conefry uses these thick sheets of paint to drape his square wood panels like gift wrap around a package, transforming the act of painting into something entirely unexpected.

The artist uses a repeated color scheme in these works, employing intense oranges, blacks, blues, whites and several shades of off-white that range from the color of sweetened condensed milk to the richer, darker tone of caramel cake icing. Though his color scheme and tools are limited (paint, panel, copper nails, linen fabric), Conefry is all about taking that set of materials and re-envisioning them with each new artwork.

One has the sense that the artist is pulling back the curtain on the artistic process to allow us to see how he explores the limits and possibilities of his material. “Paint” allows Conefry’s audience to share in the sense of discovery and creation, following along as Conefry finds new ways to take those basic four materials and reimagine them. He creates an engaging array of effects by weaving, slicing, wrapping, compacting and squashing paint in wildly creative ways.

In a series of pieces titled “Woven,” Conefry does just that, cutting and layering strips of acrylic paint into a basketweave pattern to create works somewhere between painting and sculpture.

In other works like “Wrapped,” Conefry gives his paintings a visceral, organic feel by wrapping his panel in a bulging white sheet of acrylic and then splitting the paint down the center, allowing for an “Alien”-worthy excretion of the multicolor “guts” — acrylic paint strips in bright colors — from inside its depths. “Wrapped” is a great example of how Conefry walks a line between cool, reserved formalism and a sense of explosive, gooey, shape-shifting energy in “Paint.”

Conefry’s paintings play with the idea of just where our attention should rest when looking at a painting, subverting our ideas of where the action is — normally on the canvas’ or panel’s surface. In “Black Square 2,” very little takes place on the white surface of the painting. Instead, it is behind the scenes where all of the energy happens. Between that white surface and a linen-wrapped panel below, Conefry has sandwiched busy, colorful layers of paint, smashing them into one crazed melange like something compressed in a trash compactor. In “Two Stripe 7,” two linen bands wrap around a fat layer of acrylic paint like a corset constraining a voluptuous woman.

In addition to playing with technique and form, Conefry’s show also displays an element of wit and physical comedy. His maverick creations with their suggestive energy and gooey shapes make “Paint” both challenging and fun to contemplate.

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