Jason Robert Bell, "Mirror" 2005

Since summer shows are a time when galleries show us, the gallery-goers, what they’ve got, ABOUT FACE, the summer exhibition at Thomas Robertello Gallery, fills the space with works by an incredible lineup of artists, from the Chicago veterans to the new and emerging. As the show’s title suggests, the artists of different genres, media and styles, all have contributed works that depict or otherwise employ figures and faces to communicate their diverse ideas to viewers. Beyond the figurative content, the artists in the exhibition explore themes of the darkness and lightness with in the real and the fantastic.

Nikki S. Lee, "Exotic Dancers project" 2000

Several of the artists address the true dichotomies of reality. John Delk’s archival inkjet prints encourage comparison between kitschy trade magazine photographs and the iconic portraits by German photographer, August Sander. Usurping and dismantling myths of masculine violence, Noelle Mason elaborates on these notions in her video work, Bob and Weave. Also investigating real constructions in which to operate is Michael Nudelman, whose 1,444 stickers on 1,444 poker chips address the maneuvering of the artist within contemporary contexts. And no figurative show would be complete without a painting by the late Ed Paschke; Red Bobo from 1999 submits an additional and authoritative examination of masking and culture.

Artists in ABOUT FACE also challenge real issues of persona and identity like Cody Critcheloe (also of the band SSION), contributing works of graphite on paper merging reality with camp and costume. Capturing the outward persona, as well as exposing what’s behind it is photographer Nikki S. Lee; Hip Hop Project #36 and Erotic Dancers project are glimpses of sub-cultures that constitute parts of the self. Grant Schexnider similarly communicates using fragments frozen in time, though his large-scale painting in the exhibition, using monumentality to further heighten the power of supreme pain and/or ecstasy.

Ed Paschke, Red Bobo, 1999

From reality and constructions of it, ABOUT FACE extends to the real executed within the ambiguous and the imagined. The three-dimensional component in the exhibition is Scott Fife’s Wer Wulf, the head of the mythical chimera super-realistically manifested in archival cardboard, glue and screws. Emily Noelle Lambert’s painting and collage on paper composes bodies and landscapes of an inner, intuitive origin. Julie Weitz paintings also take us out of the realm of reality, but here through abstraction and its subsequent ambiguity; her Guardian 11 and Guardian 12 use masks as a strategy for both style and content. I Re-touch Myself by Travis LeRoy Southworth masks personal identity, not through the additive mask, but through subtraction: whittling down a portrait until only the imperfections remain. Finally, Jason Robert Bell’s sinister central figure of Mirror clearly begs the question: which is worse, our distorted reflection, or our true selves?

ABOUT FACE is on display June 11 through July 31, 2010 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 939 West Randolph Street, Chicago.