It’s difficult to surprise art audiences with figurative work these days. But at a new exhibition at Art in Flux Harlem, Terrestrial Resonance, I see work that genuinely astonishes me. Nate Lewis’s “Uninhibited Movements” (2016) and “Conductor II” (2017) both are hand sculpted paper photo prints that meld the material of the photographic paper and the body depicted on that paper to work together as a field of graphic and textural exploration. Lewis, delicately and with a staggering degree of detail, makes cuts into the underlying image of a nude black male body in “Uninhibited Movements” to create a landscape that is tattooed with patterns like waves, a flock of birds wheeling in the night sky, or tribal beadwork incised into the skin. The picking done to create these vistas is so fine that I bounce back and forth between admiring the metaphor of the body as canvas for the decorative impulse and admiring the facture of the work.
The exhibition is curated by Stan Squirewell whose work also has dealt with the figure, and for Terrestrial Resonance he’s brought together some artists who, like Lewis employ the strategy of using the body’s silhouette as a window into complex graphic cosmos. Michael B. Platt does this in “Spirit of the Jute,” and collaborating with Katherine Lau Mann in “I’m Just Getting Started,” both of which are fascinating. Tammy Nguyen is a departure from that in her paintings that use the language of surrealism to create phantasms like eyeballs shooting out laser beams and people falling upwards towards the sky. I don’t particularly care for Kimberly M. Becoat’s collages that refer to the Hottentot Venus — likening her body to a candy confection for consumption seems both obvious and ham-handed. Still, the entire exhibition finds visual splendor and brutal beauty in the figure.