Wynn Ragland

The Gallery at CNN Center

Wynn Ragland’s recent work comprises a series of color photographs that have been transferred to Cibachrome by a computer mapping process. All five works use the saturated color of early abstraction and sometimes pointedly refer to the abstract styles of the ’20s. The pieces are large (3 by 5 feet and 4 by 5 feet) and combine abstract and figural elements. Ragland imports images into a computer from the media or from life as seen through a video camera, then manipulates them and prints the result from a transparency produced by a dot matrix camera. In some cases, the result is balanced and elegant. One piece features abstract patterns that resemble the shimmer of color reflected from a body of water; the striped dress of a woman rises from or descends into a chair, forming a triangle of intense red and yellow in the foreground. The works suggest the violence and speed of urban life in abstract terms; in one, two women react violently to some off-camera stimulus—one is shouting, the other covering her mouth, but the eyes of both are angry, aggressive. The bright green, yellow, and red don’t describe the figures but interrupt and disturb them. A “blade” of red cuts into the screaming woman’s throat, and bright patches of color agitate the entire surface.

These works suggest the nonspecific anguish of Ed Paschke’s figures; Ragland uses color to abstract rather than describe the subjects . He throws his appropriated characters into a world that is often as intense in emotion as in color, and the context that might explain this anxiety is dissolved in the ever-present, ahistorical now of televised reality. Ragland has in his most recent work become fascinated with the illusions of normality and tranquility that form the surface of everyday reality and with the sudden eruptions of violent emotion that disturb that reality. The externalization of the anger of his agitated subjects suggests the power of the video image to aggravate rather than resolve conflicts. He suggests that the intensity of ’20s abstraction can only be achieved in the ’80s in terms of anger, violence, and velocity. He ignores, however, the capacity of television to level out violent images by saturating us with them. His work oscillates between the peaceful and the violent, not quite capturing the media noise in between.

Glenn Harper