Charlotte’s Gallery Twenty-Two explores new directions in ‘Systematic’

In two different media at Gallery Twenty-Two’s exhibition “Systematic,” visitors see two bodies of work that are laden with process and methodical approaches to building, manipulating and distorting.

Matthew Steele’s structural wood sculptures and prints line the left wall, and Ben Premeaux’s colorful photographs hang on the right. Steele, who makes sculptures from squared lengths of wood, tiny nails, graph paper and an occasional piece of twine, is exhibiting digital prints for the first time. His three-dimensional work has been successfully adapted to the walls of the narrow space, and alternates with prints stacked two high.

This sculptural work is an outcome of Steele’s interest in jigs. Here, the term “jig” refers to the intermediary piece meant to maintain a consistent relationship between an object or structure and the tool manipulating it. In the gallery, these stand proudly and independently of the components they were created to connect. They appear to be the work of a mastermind: diligently planned, repetitive and tightly assembled, but also craft-like, with unpolished, grainy wood and nailheads showing.

“Archetype: Infra” stands proudly in the gallery’s window to Central Avenue, with horizontal and diagonal pieces tacked to a paper-lined panel and supported by tall, narrow scaffolding. “Hand of a Ghost” is a long, wide arc with its horizontal top edge lined by a miniature railing, recalling a bridge. Its construction is hopeful: Enough pressure could snap it in half at its weak center connection. It dominates the wall it lies flush against, enlarging itself through shadow play.

The paper pieces are digital drawings printed on thick Stonehenge paper. Set in a context of emptiness, the fictional constructs are blended unevenly with what one presumes is fog or mist. This is an avenue the artist should continue to explore, though here, the prints are akin to Michelangelo’s explorations in paint; when juxtaposed so closely, his skill in three dimensions outshines his efforts in two. What is interesting is seeing these constructs imagined with a context.

Premeaux’s work consists of compilations of photographs knit together. Finding a point of interest, he will photograph it from many different angles, each representing a slightly different space and time. Viewers will recognize the places in a few of them, like Bank of America Stadium or the uptown Charlotte skyline.

The most standout works are his photographs printed on aluminum hexagons, luminous in color saturation and variety. The shapes are divided into seven sections, six wedge pieces show the point of interest from a different angle, and overlaying their intersection, a smaller hexagon in the center shows the focal point head-on. Like a cubist, Premeaux flattens the many facets of these scenes into two dimensions.

Nearby, matte photographs adhered to cubes mounted to the wall take this same approach. Viewers must physically move their bodies to appreciate each side of the work; this performance aspect of the work enhances its experiential nature – a pleasant surprise at a show of photographs – connecting it to the sculpture across the room.

This compositional approach points to his past as a filmmaker but does not reinforce his skill as a photographer. The real draw in Premeaux’s work is his ability to blatantly address photographic manipulation, inherent in the age of digital photography.

These two artists work well together because of their preoccupation with space and their efforts to push its representation into two dimensions. Some attempts are more successful than others, but this show is enjoyable, and Gallery Twenty-Two is right to encourage these kinds of explorations.