For most of America's history, art was all about recognizable objects. Whether sharp or fuzzy, coolly detached or sentimental, we knew what we were looking at — until roughly 60 years ago when abstract expressionism seemed to appear out of nowhere. Or did it? In fact, abstraction had been with us all along, as rural women from Appalachia to Iowa stitched patchwork quilts that were really the first American abstract art form. Some surmise that all those repeating orderly patterns may have been a response to the chaos of rural life, and while Aaron Collier admits to being influenced by growing up with his grandmother's quilts, his new paintings are more about the tension between stability and change. Where abstract expressionism was all about inner, or subjective, values, Collier's explosions of color and gesture encompass our contemporary concern with atmospheric upheavals and the unholy symbiosis of technology and pop culture that define modern life. In Broken Star (pictured), most patchwork quilt elements are there, but the energy is fractured and serrated with glaucous phosphorescence radiating outward as if from a particle collider. With and Without Weight further elaborates Collier's collision of established order and chaos theory in a visual metaphor of what happens when nature starts to undo everything we thought we knew and science — and human improvisation — have to scramble to make sense of it all.
Much of the texture of modern life comes from complex layers of everything ranging from laws to the dense electronic circuits that entangle our lives like cat's claw vines. Nature and culture are invoked in Anita Cooke's Density expo at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, in works like Hidden Garden where her grandmother's sewing machine helped her cobble swirls of colored thread into works that mimic the complexity of the natural world and the modern systems designed to serve us, but in which we now appear irrevocably entangled. — D. Eric Bookhardt