It’s all in the details

Ryan Pierce is a paranoid man. He not only thinks someone is out to get him, he thinks they are out to get all of us. His show at the Marghitta Feldman Gallery (1102 N.W. Marshall St.), called Evidence: A Visual Indictment of the FBI, illustrates all the details.

Pierce may be on to something. He’s consulted the newspapers, the library and all kinds of sources to justify his claims. If you have any doubts or wish to challenge his ideas, you’ll have to consult the evidence first. In the middle of the exhibition is a file cabinet full of articles, photographs and images. Pierce researched extensively on who is keeping track of who before he set to painting and the viewer is privy to it all. Categories such as "FBI Directors," "Black Nationalists" and "Americans Disappeared" were taken into consideration.

The artist then made works which are essentially collaged, fragmented tableaux with emphasis on the paint, yet not purely such. Most of the works are a compilation of many images in paint with bits of three-dimensional objects thrown in. The pieces tend to be an overload of information but perhaps that could be the point.

Pierce explores the methodology of the FBI in which various parts are combined to make a whole. The "Identikit Project" is exactly that, with the artist expanding this method by using the faces of artists or others who we may not typically think of as criminals, yet the FBI might. The artist references the witch-hunt type of mindset of the 1950s and the extreme paranoia of those times, taking a nostalgic view but also updating it.

"Widow’s Walk" is one of the more simple pieces consisting of a collection of small paintings, all of them white male faces connected by wires. In the center of it all is J. Edgar Hoover. The generations of men who follow his bloody legacy are spread out in a decorative, almost George Jetson type of way.

In "Voyeur," Pierce plays with the notion that just as the FBI is a voyeur, watching our every move, the artist is also a voyeur, worshipping some of his creative heroes. The heroes in this particular work were writers all challenged by the FBI for potentially participating in Un-American Activities. Of course the final voyeurism is when the finished product is placed in a gallery, on display for visual consumption.

In the small space of Marghitta Feldman, one senses that Pierce needs a little more space to stretch out. Or maybe it’s this viewer’s own discomfort with imagery that seems a little too packed. This artist may be in a rush to paint the world and get it all down. I found myself blowing up many of the paintings in my mind’s eye and stripping away some of the obsessive details. Sometimes it was hard to see that there was some very fine painting in that room.

Keep in mind that it’s all those messy details that make up these organizations which spy on our lives. Those messy details, the conspiracies and cover-ups, are all part of the saga rooted in the 1950s that still carries on today. Pierce has made his point there. But I still think he is also capable of ruthlessly condensing it all down to the sordid brass tacks and this would make an even more powerful body of work.

Click here for more art by Ryan Pierce.