Los Angeles

Ginny Bishton

Richard Telles Fine Art

The question of how things grow is not unlike the question of how things come to be. In Ginny Bishton’s photocollage on vellum, a thing of wacky wonder, the grids of individually cutout color photographs of fruits and garden vegetables—asparagus, squash, red peppers, yellow tomatoes, bananas, blueberries, cherries, potatoes, mushrooms, kiwi, limes, cabbage, string beans—can be seen at once as a garden, a commentary on color theory and the abstract nature of the world around us, and a flag staking out Bishton’s turf. When viewed in conjunction with her drawings, the collage’s exploration of the connections between home and studio; craft and art; and the weird, interconnected realities of abstraction and realism (especially in relation to processes of living and making) all emerge, making the work a shrewd take on the tradition of still life.

Of course, many of these concerns are only ways of re-seeing or re-evaluating time. All of Bishton’s work accretes, cutout by cutout, or dot by dot. The collage is titled and dated February–September, 1997, yet it would be too simple to see this notation of time spent as a significant marker of quality, as has recently been done by many critics supposedly analyzing work as different as that of Jennifer Pastor, Julie Becker, and Bishton. Of course, the amount of time spent may register as a meaningful element of the work, but this in no way guarantees its success or failure. It is more interesting to consider how Bishton’s slow, accretive process comments both on domesticity and on the perhaps more mysterious problem of determining when a piece is finished (if it ever really is).

Bishton’s two works of acrylic on paper (both Untitled, 1997), are spare but somehow lush wormings of green, blue, fuchsia, and black marks—they look like blown-up swatches of fabric, or chromosomal strands seen through a powerful microscope—which heighten viewing of the formal aspects of the collage (how color works against color, the microsculptural qualities of works in two dimensions). But it is the collage that opens up the aesthetic challenges of Bishton’s entire project. Its individual edibles make one consider how difficult it is to not see any abstraction without biomorphism. And while it could be seen as a sly, subtle commentary on some of Donald Judd’s boxes of wall color, Bishton’s precise, obsessive scissoring most often poses questions about the often indistinguishable differences between art and craft—in ways similar to Arcimboldo’s vegetable entertainments, Joseph Cornell’s collecting, the American folk art of Scherenschnitte, and the obsessive beautification techniques of Martha Stewart. It is easy to deride Stewart (who would probably put Bishton’s piece to use as a table runner), and yet it is these decorative aspects—Bishton’s insistence on the charm of such minute processes—that she turns into aesthetic strength.

What is our investment in upholding the separations between art and craft/ decoration; between the gesture of markmaking and handiwork; between the kitchen table and the studio desk; between taste as an aesthetic criterion and taste as a pleasure principle that foods tuffs provoke and satiate? In Arcimboldo’s works, as Barthes wrote, “Nature does not stop: . . . flowers descend from the object to the body, they invade the skin, they constitute the skin: it is a leprosy of flowers which overtakes the face, the neck, the bust.” While Bishton’s work has not yet explored the more “monstrous” nature of the natural, she investigates more carefully and quietly than many others the myriad ways that culture’s roots have long since been nourished by our own strange gardens.

Bruce Hainley