The Broken World

Mark Dutcher's world is shot through with holes. His show at the Office in Huntington Beach, “Go for Broken,” is a deceptively childlike meditation on the all-too-grown-up subject of loss and emptiness. Elementary physics tells us the universe tends toward disorder yet never imparts how we humans, with the singular capacity for making sense of the non-sensible, are to cope with what remains. The artist statement-cum-short story that Dutcher provides as background speaks of a night when “the wind took away all the trees and all that was left were holes.” Like those whose roots stave off the erosion of precious and nourishing soil, his trees are the missed and the dearly departed. And we viewers are left to clutch at the dirt and hold it together with sieves for hands.

Three of the exhibit's pieces are extremely similar in design, so much so that the smaller two serve as preliminary sketches for the largest. The aptly titled The Skeleton (2006) is a bare-bones set of concentric circles scrawled in magic marker on white, waxy paper. The paper itself is messily stapled to its mounting, as are several round shocks of color, like half-dollars cut from construction paper. His holes are everywhere—the representations of which often seem affixed to his pieces haphazardly, even desperately, as if they, too, could fly away at any moment. Office curator Chris Hoff says Dutcher makes little effort to hide the process involved in creating his pieces—making the process a part of the finished work itself.

The next most “finished” piece in the series, The Eye (2006), has as its focus a pencil drawing on the same waxy surface. The largest scale of the trio, Kill All Lies (2006) is a wall-size sheet nearly filled by another penciling, its rings filled in with blocks of lines in alternating directions. It's reminiscent of the illusion wherein interference patterns make a stationary circle appear to be turning, the viewer's eyes drawn toward its pinhole center. Filling the space around the circle are literally dozens of waffle-soled shoe prints and a half-dozen rings from a repositioned coffee mug. But crowded along the lower edges are semicircles in a mix of sizes and colors peeking from behind the main surface, like the tops of the heads of an eager audience.

Others of his works here sport similar sets of concentric circles, but also introduce a second motif: the rag rug. Unreelers: Rug 1 and Rug 2 (2005) are a diptych concerning the beginning of the end. The rugs, like those woven at a summer camp or a retirement home, serve as a greater metaphor for “Go for Broken.” Constructed from the center out, they therefore unravel at the edges first, and the weakening of their structural integrity finally causes the middle to give, leaving us with only a pile of rags—an ex-rug. In his paintings, there is a flash of optimism: Dutcher's rugs have yet to fray even a little. Still, I have to wonder if each rug is merely covering yet another hole to step into.

Hoff says Dutcher considers the exhibit's lone sculpture a painting—but on a technicality, as its surfaces are entirely covered with paint. Empire (2005) is a partial wall of yellow, waxy bricks, arranged in a rough arc like the final remains of some great city's crumbling walls. Its face has been tagged with the piece's title, but in reverse, which made me think of The Shining.

This message, too, is a warning, one reflected in the rear-view mirror of history: things fall apart.


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