Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Joseph Parra
The last time I visited Safe Gallery, I talked to artist Ioanna Pantazopoulou about her artworks that repurposed and re-contextualized the detritus of globalization. At my next and most recent visit to Safe Gallery to see the Billy Grant-Rich Porter show, I discovered work by Porter that also delves into this same sort of detritus. In Porter’s case, he has taken the quintessential emblem of feckless international trade — the unidentifiable piece of plastic floating in the ocean — and formed a sculpture project out of it. Unlike Pantazopoulou who collected her spent and remaindered materials, Porter re-engineer’s his by 3D printing replicas of a single piece of plastic he found in the ocean. By spewing forth iterations of a seemingly random piece of trash, Porter refuses to allow the plastic to be an insignificant one-off thing. Furthermore, his medium also poses an implicit challenge to the sort of globalized shipping that leaves spent plastic in its wake. The challenge being why should a company stick a plastic product on a container ship at all when they can just email its file to a local 3D printer instead.
I don’t know if Porter was thinking about any of this when he created the show, but the work is very rich with meaning, so there are plenty of interpretations to go around. I do, however, know the details of how he 3D printed aspects of the sculpture because, yeoman that Porter is, he was touching up the paint job on various pieces when I came to preview the show a few hours before it opened. Specifically, he was putting the finishing painting touches on a particularly adorable pair of 3D-printed boots that would ground one of the sculptures.
Ultimately, the sculptures evoke the sea in a number of ways. The plastic evokes the sea as the corridor of trade, but the sculptures as a whole look like old fishing nets and thus take on a nostalgic quality, recalling Porter’s Rhode Island roots. There is a stark contrast of materials in the sculpture: plastic and rope battle it out to dramatic effect.
Safe Gallery can always be counted on for a successful pairing of artists, and this show is no exception. The second artist is Billy Grant whose paintings for the show were created entirely with brushes attached to an electric drill. It’s a process that developed and evolved over the course of creating the work for the show, and the curators have included an early test painting. It provides an insight into the trajectory of his process, which I would deem a resoundingly successful experiment.
As with Porter, I again couldn’t help thinking of the ocean looking at Grant’s paintings, obviously, the painting of dolphins was pretty suggestive of the briny deep, but more generally, his swirling painting technique gives all of his paintings a coral-type feel.
Grant was one of the members of the close-knit art group Dearraindrop for many years and also collaborated on the dada runway show by George De George; the show at Safe Gallery allows him more room for personal expression. The painting of his mother’s house is a particular standout in the series. The house is situated in a void of solid color where Grant’s drill-assisted brush strokes make the house seemingly vibrate. The effect brings to mind the sort of memory where the object of sentiment becomes decontextualized as it is instilled with special significance.
Safe Gallery is one of my favorite Bushwick galleries. This show nicely reflects the very contemporary and industrial nature of the neighborhood combined with the 19th-century feel of the Gallery named after ancient safe that still resides in it.