You could just run away. This occurs to me when I revisit images of Bob Clyatt’s high relief wall sculptures in his current exhibition at Anthony Philip Fine Art. Mostly the pieces are Carrara marble, imparting a placid, chalky white appearance that runs counter to the deliberate chaos of the compositions. Here and there are spots of color though: shiny polyhedrons of mosaic glass or a face that’s darkened by pigment. There are many faces, generally doll like and serene, and they are mostly floating among or drowning in a disorderly mass of branded signs and symbols — the communicative and consumerist appurtenances of contemporary life. Take “Cscape #28” (2016), which depicts a feminine, white European-looking face in the middle of a gallimaufry: logos for Volkswagen, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Ray-Ban, Exxon, Facebook, CNN, and others, along with USB cables, emojis with valentine hearts for eyes, a rubber duck, a toy soldier, the muzzle of a handgun, child-resistant caps to prescription medicine bottles, a “thumbs-up” sign. If a tsunami slammed into a thriving metropolis and leveled it to the ground and then froze solid, a small one-foot by two-feet section of that hellscape might look like several of Clyatt’s pieces here.
The show is titled A More Human Dwelling Place, but being one of the characters in Clyatt’s sculptures can’t be that place the title alludes too. These situations depict a kind of collapse. I wonder whether it is more human to flee this global culture of signs pretending to be wonders, to take up a monastic life in a cave, as some have historically done. Others run towards the bacchanalia of consumer products that glisten in their newness. I suspect what Claytt refers to is the space this exhibition occupies: critical awareness, in the miasma, but not fully of it. In his exhibition catalogue the artist mentions spending time with James Baldwin, when in 1980 he “washed up in the medieval French town of St. Paul de Vence,” where Baldwin was staying. Over dinners and drinks listening to Baldwin “hold forth on issues of race in America.” But more than that, I think the writer helped orient Clyatt to this place of consciousness where we swim through cultural debris trying not to drown.