What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

July 2, 2020

Chris Engman
Luis de Jesus Los Angeles
April 25 - June 20, 2020

Chris Engman

Chris Engman's compelling exhibition Looking consists of six identically framed photographs. This suite of images features a large sheet of folded and crinkled paper surrounded by a square wooden frame. Each of the irregularly shaped paper forms are inscribed with a drawn line or painted shape that disrupts the depth of the surface. In most of his works, Engman creates visual or spacial illusions that play with perception, confusing the boundaries between what the eyes see and what is actually presented. The works are simultaneously flat and dimensional. Engman's process is performative and sculptural. He has created both room-sized installations that cohere when viewed from a single vantage point as well as individual photographs that document these interventions and experiments.

To make the works in his Paper series, Engman contorts a large piece of white paper and attaches it in various places to his studio wall, then he installs a frame around it. This 'dimensional' work is then photographed and that documentation is put into an actual wooded frame. In some cases, once this framed photograph is hung on the gallery wall, Engman extends part of what is within the image onto the actual frame and wall, furthering the illusion. For example, Acrylic on Paper II, (2020), is a photograph of a piece of white-paper molded into an abstract shape and pinned to the wall in such a way that the edges extend out into space. A painted blue rectangle seems to bisects the lower portion of the image. It appears as though Engman used a paint roller to create a stripe of blue across the entire set-up— the paper, image, frame and actual wall. The resulting picture invites a double-take as the viewer sees a photographic image of a flattened three-dimensional form as well as the painted frame and wall.

In these Paper works, Engman's illusions are not difficult to figure out. Rather, they are experiments into how line and simple forms can alter perception. Yet, to create these images Engman needs to be specific about where he places the camera so the vantage points line up. Paper V, (2019) presents a perfect graphite circle drawn over the sculpted paper and the wall upon which it hangs within the photographic image. To create this work Engman had to draw the image on both the wall and the paper and then align his camera to the perfect spot to capture the illusion. While Engman indulges in Tromp l'oeil, his goal is not to "trick" the viewer, but rather to explore the processes and expectations of perception.

The images and their extensions on the walls are thoughtful exercises in the properties and powers of photography. As Engman states, "What I'm trying to do is make images that disrupt the immediacy of photographs in order to make conscious the process of decoding them." His exhibition is both a puzzle and its myriad solutions.