Keith Beckley, Jeffrey Bishop and Norie Sato

Linda Farris Gallery

Norie Sato is known primarily for her video art. Featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s February Projects Video XXIV, she has included those tapes in the Linda Farris showing and accompanied them with a new suite of her nonidentical editions of prints on laminated vegetable-fiber papers.

The prints set up random collections of tiny, sparse hand-colored dots on a gray ground. The individually applied gouache, watercolor and aluminum powder act (within a formal context) like stray electronic activity on a TV screen, and vertical lines mimic the Trinitron grid. Paused Relief, Retrace Shadows and Cross Pulse attempt to capture calculated video phenomena such as diagonal bands, horizontal flips and electronic interference. They relate to the videotapes in image only, for the craftsmanlike application of paint in the prints is austere and restrained compared to the tapes.

For an artist who admits disliking video color, her videotapes Horizon I and II demonstrate a complete command over a brighter electronic “palette.” While avoiding the exultant chromaticism of Shigeko Kubota, Sato’s colors are expressed in long, thin lines or shapes (Farewell to Triangle) and are always representational. She shares a penchant for a geometric formal vocabulary with certain other Seattle abstractionists (sculptor Robert Maki, painters Mary Ann Peters, John Edwards-Rajanen, Francis Celentano) who believe in the possibility of deeply personal statements coming from a use of carefully handled, simple shapes; like her colleagues’, Sato’s development continues with cautious but sure-footed confidence.

Keith Beckley and Jeffrey Bishop go Sato one better and completely dismiss color. Not content with Langager’s switch to earth tones. Beckley eschews applied coloration altogether and sticks with materials picked up at the corner hardware store: brass and copper wire, string, thread, fake marble, glass (shattered) and plexiglas.

His Three-Dimensional Installation articulates some anger nonetheless, so defiant is it in not offering viewers “material“ comfort present even in Judd or Andre. These thin-lined wall/floor constructions are skeletal in character and bear strong resemblance to some other recent floor-to-wall art, specifically Robert Rauschenberg’s “Jammers” series (shown here in January 1978). Beckley has ripped away the floridly colored fabrics but kept the bamboo-stick lean-to extending at an angle from the wall. Discarding the spacious quality in “Jammers” lent by the textiles, Beckley’s installations might better fall into the category of drawing anyway, I think, and what he does call drawings (also on display) are englassed assemblages of brass and copper wire, striated palm sticks, lichen-covered alder twigs beside small pages of musical score paper and Mexican schoolchildren’s notebooks. Objects trouvés one may concede, but I’m still asking for either more information on which to base appreciation or a more creatively satisfying alteration of the existing data.

Jeffrey Bishop is represented by two installations (also floor-to-wall), Debris/Distraction and Equator, and a series of compressed charcoal drawings, “Drift.” The cement hunks, string, styrofoam and scrap angle iron come straight from Boeing Aviation Surplus Co. but their placement on and off the wall is light years away from Kurt Schwitters or John Chamberlain’s sculptural manipulation of objects once found. Deferring rather to a “phenomenology of materials,” letting them make their own statements of “essence” through a meticulously controlled placing, Bishop adopts Minimalist rhetoric on behalf of the materials’ industrial integrity but reserves the designer’s right to position according to taste.

More successfully reductive than Beckley, Bishop’s newer work rejects the sensuous watercolor wash over green engineering graph paper in his “Prairie Schooner” series. Now, the installations and drawings are vehemently antipainterly and one wonders how much has been lost in the search for crystalline composition.

Equator falters somewhat as a wall/floor encounter and actually works better for me as a three-dimensional “sketch” for a two-dimensional drawing. The farther away one stands in the gallery, the flatter the whole conglomeration appears and the more forceful its message. This is why the Drift series (“drifting” positions of four irregular polygons) is the most successful in expressing Bishop’s overriding concern with order, schema and a subtly emerging pattern based on information removal. The rubbings and blottings beside each dense wedge-shape create a poetic halo effect, rendering the drawings thus more pleasingly complex and less harshly austere than the installations.

Matthew Kangas