27 May - 10 July, 2021
Catalyst Contemporary presents Transmogrify, an exhibition featuring the mixed-media collages of Holly Roberts and the rich, textural paintings of Thiang Uk. Together, these artists explore mythologies through the collision of reality and fiction, transforming our understanding of self, our surroundings, and the foundational building blocks that make us.
Holly Roberts' whimsical and dark collages use multiple layers of paint and photographs to tell poetic and complex autobiographical narratives. Intertwined with imagery from world religions, the cultural history of the American Southwest, she describes an existential dread of the banality of everyday life. Roberts’ scenes feature subjects made out of both human and animal parts. The main figure of Rabbit Walking consists of a lone figure in an ambiguous void. The figure, in a side profile, has the head of a rabbit, a painted peach sweater but also the legs and hands of a human being. The transition from animal to human is seamless and appears natural as if we could see it walking off the page and into our own reality.
Conversely, the works featuring only human elements still retain these seemingly magical and mythical components. Breathing has the lone human subject staring straight out of the work; its face is that of a flat white skull and its arms and other elements are faint white lines of a skeletal nature. The paint intermingles with the photographs of piercing eyes, a dark nose, and hands splayed across it’s chest. The title written across the top conjures a further transformation of the figure, changing it from a static image to a scene of movement. The use of text is found throughout several works. Both printed and written text either serve as a background of the works such as in Two Birds or add a humorous element as seen in Love Me Truck. Roberts’ works offer a variety of different parts of life and living, from light and humorous to dark and meditative.
Thiang Uk’s work consists entirely of painted surfaces but approaches the idea of collage similarly to Roberts. Uk’s paintings, from small-scale intimate experiences to large-scale environments, are filled with a multitude of different cultural and historical elements such as Western representational traditions, Chinese landscapes, Indian pictorial traditions, and Burmese fabric patterns. These rich tapestries map out Uk’s journey of immigrating across the globe and his own relationship with various geographies and cultures. Wrapped within these collaged symbols and ideas are Uk’s own feelings of loss, uncertainty, and the fear often found by being in new and unfamiliar places. Inversely, there exists a sense of comfort fueled by acknowledging one's own resilience and adaptability that also permeates Uk’s abstracted figures.
The figures present in Uk’s paintings present a collage of landscapes and figures. Although figurative, Uk’s figures become abstracted and it becomes unclear which part of the figure is fore or background, a living singular being or a dense flat landscape. In Refugee 1, both time and a multitude of scenes are collapsed and intertwined with memories and cultural symbols and patterns, all of which are contained within the figure’s torso. Uk’s works are tense yet satisfying, playful yet heavy; his paintings transform and create new ways of seeing time, space, and identity.
Transmogrify brings these two artists together to host a conversation that blends the line of reality and fiction and presents rich textural works that meditate on our own human conditions.