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Art review: Kelly Barrie at the Santa Monica Museum of Art

October 13, 2011 |  4:15 pm

Kelly Barrie, "Mirror House"
Kelly Barrie’s Project Room show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art consists of a single stunning picture called “Mirror House.” Its genesis is complicated and fascinating, beginning with a haunting newspaper photograph taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Barrie "walked the image out of his mind" by articulating its subjects in photo-luminescent pigment on black paper, using his feet. He then photographed the drawing more than 70 times — by its own light, stored in the pigment — and digitally montaged those images together to create one seamless, deeply evocative print.

Remarkably, the how of the image’s making doesn’t overwhelm the what. “Mirror House” is a gorgeous hybrid, reading at once as drawing, blueprint and photographic trace. The muscular trunk and branches of a tree dominate the foreground, screening the view of a house in skeletal outline. Both stand in floodwater, which can’t be seen as much as deduced by the reflection’s doubling effect.

Values are reversed and the field is largely bluish-black, but the image looks less like a negative than a ghostly nightscape, the tree a dance of milk-white streaks and smears, the house a pale, bony memory. Powdery scatters abut fluid smudges. Dense opacity yields to filmy translucence. Barrie, London-born and living in L.A., builds a tremendous textural and emotional richness through his inventive process — part gestural performance, part documentation, an alliance of physical presence and temporal retreat.

-- Leah Ollman

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6488, through Dec. 10.

Image: Kelly Barrie, "Mirror House." Credit: Santa Monica Museum of Art