Monday, March 31, 2008

Michael Bise in Art in America

via Art in America
April 2008, No. 4
page 173

Michael Bise titled this exhibition “Birthday,” but the announcement card, which the artist reproduced as a small wall drawing at the gallery, showed a grave marker commemorating Michael William Bise, Sr., who died at the age of 50 on Oct. 12, 1999. This first image sets up the autobiographical context for Bise’s large-format graphite drawings (all 2007).

Fall, which uses the overhead view Bise favors, depicts a man in early middle age collapsed on a leaf-strewn patio. Bise’s other drawings narrate in well-selected, telling scenes the confusing and painful days that follow a family member’s death. A dazed son stands in his old room at his parents’ house. A younger daughter sits weeping on her bed in a room plastered with Britney Spears posters. The son has brought his girlfriend home with him, and in one drawing they make love on his twin bed in a room that still has sports trophies on the chest of drawers and Winnie the Pooh valances on the windows.

Most of Bise’s drawings are around 36 by 40 inches, but two much larger works bring greater narrative complexity to the exhibition. Vanishing Points (36 by 84 1/4 inches) gathers mother, son and daughter at the hospital to identify their father’s body. The floor is a cacophony of horrible linoleum patterns, but the drawing’s title tips you to the fact that each of the four characters stands on a piece of floor that disappears into its own vanishing point. Exit (46 by 204 inches) presents the father’s funeral. The daughter delivers her testimonial to dozens of attendees divided into flanking rows pews. The specificity of each mourner depicted establishes them as portraits, and Bise has filled one side of the church with family friends and the other with his own friends from the Houston art scene.

Bise suffers from the same congenital heart problem as his deceased father and so has chosen to use Exit as both a memorial to his parent and a projection of the early death that is possible for him as well. Although this bit of backstory cannot be known by all of his viewers, what animates this subtle body of work is the artist’s faith that precision and detail can be employed to both deal with loss and confront fear.

-Charles Dee Mitchell

congrats on paper-worthy wordage, dude!

The artist sold every piece in the October show except for the big one... which he sold to the MFAH. Sweet!