October 20 - December 16, 2007 at Huntington Beach Art Center, Orange County
October 20 - December 1, 2007 at High Energy Constructs, Downtown

As musician and music producer Brian Eno once said "In things that are very up-tempo and frenzied, there's nearly always a melancholy edge." He could easily have been speaking about Mark Dutcher.

Dutcher creates paintings and sculptures that remind us of our own vulnerability, and of the impermanence of our lives and everything that surrounds us. He describes some of his work as being motivated by the sense of loss and a fear of forgetting loves, experiences, and desires that once had a compelling urgency but are now vanished. Although this may have been the case in the past, newer works find Dutcher shifting focus, perhaps toward something like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' fifth stage of development in regard to loss, that of acceptance. His work now seems to insist on the beauty of life and its celebration, even while still grieving for loves and lives lost.

Dutcher presents an exhibit at the Huntington Beach Art Center called “Shelf Life,” and a concurrent exhibit, “Curtains,” at Chinatown's High Energy Constructs. In Huntington Beach, he is exhibiting several sculptures and three types of paintings--his "columbarium" paintings and "portal" paintings, which were previously exhibited at SolwayJones and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, as well as the new "theatrical" paintings. “Curtains” exclusively features the “theatrical” paintings.

These “theatrical” paintings are quite raw—drippy, messy, thick, and colored with markings from acrylics, crayons, spray paint, paint sticks, and oil that is sometimes squeezed from the tube. The raw, disheveled qualities evoke both sympathy and giddiness. One wants to say "There, there. It will all get better. Now. . .let's party."

In the newest works he cuts out circles of painted canvas, and integrates these within the painted canvas. This device seems an honest progression; Dutcher has moved from painting collections (in the “columbarium” paintings) to collecting elements of his past works and physically integrating them into new paintings.

And what are these circles, anyway? Dutcher knows the symbols of his personal language, but it is not necessary to understand that language in order to "read" his work. According to Dutcher, they exist "like the random driftwood or rock mementos we see on other people's bookshelves. We know them as a placeholder for an experience, and that is enough."

Of course decoding the paintings is a great deal of fun nevertheless.

In the painting “Curtains,” there is this "the center does not hold" feel that makes it into a kind of  triptych. Or is that a collision in the center? And are the circles heads? Maybe, but one looks like Earth.  Perhaps the piece is galactic, referring to our wee place in the universe.

In “The snow inside the hour glass” the circles have a fleeting feel of soap bubbles, the sort that a small child might encounter as a first experience of extreme beauty. Yet the child is taunted by the very intangibility of a bubble, learning to grieve the loss of each “pop,” and then to accept it, understanding that new bubbles can be invented.

The white painted globe of “Collapsed Portal” seems like a three-dimensional version of this delicate world. It is a portal closing in on itself, becoming nothing, soon to disappear. However, we are led to believe that what is contained within--the essence of a person--is being transported.

This sense of constant movement and transport is another consistent theme. Dutcher's “Braided Rugs” read as magic carpets. Like the “Portals,” they convey the feel of magical vehicles of transport. The hourglass that appears at least once on almost every painting looks like the iconic Eames stool, a good source of spiritual transport. An hourglass also appears on the back of a venomous black widow spider. There is an underlying current that in order to pass through the portal something must die.

The newer works are also imposing. While Dutcher's sculptures are often of an installation scale, two paintings at Huntington Beach, “A Year in the Theater” and “Outside the Palace a Hush Falls like Death Upon the Crowd” are each eight by ten feet.  Through a haze of dark blackness or creamy whiteness we are immersed in all the elements at once, encompassed by all of time's flow and trailing detritus in a transcendent instant. It is, as Eno might observe, both frenzied and melancholic.  The paintings feel at once like a party in high gear, and then suddenly like All Tomorrow's Parties.