The Buffalo News
Date: Friday, October 12, 2001
By: By BRUCE ADAMS – News Contributing Reviewer
Illustration: Biff Henrich takes ordinary objects, spray paints them silver, wraps them in foil and bathes them in multicolored lights.
WHAT: Biff Henrich: New Works
WHEN: Through Oct. 28
WHERE: Rental Sales Gallery, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.
ADMISSION: $3 to $4
The phrase “digital photography” evokes thoughts of images so highly manipulated that they bear little relationship to what the lens actually sees. Incredible feats of “camera magic” are now routinely performed in the computer long after the camera shutter has clicked. In this high-tech environment, it’s understandable that many photographers adopt a shoot-now-ask-aesthetic-questions-later approach, in which preparation is replaced by postcamera electronic tweaking.
At first glance, Biff Henrich’s digital prints in the Rental Sales Gallery of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery seem to be typical of the trend toward heavy image-manipulation. Most of these untitled studio still lifes of more or less ordinary objects erupt with spectacular displays of supersaturated color and incongruous metallic surfaces. Close observation, however, reveals that most of the manipulation occurred before the pictures were taken, almost exclusively through clever use of silver paint, aluminum foil and colored lights.
Henrich has a long history of taking ordinary objects or activities and transforming them into the extraordinary. To get the dramatic effects of these new works, Henrich employs a sophisticated digital printing technique called gicle (French for “to spray ink”) to achieve velvety smooth, saturated surfaces in which color is intensely expressive. Ironically, this expressiveness is perhaps most apparent in the few examples in which color is nearly absent.
In one such work, a bunch of bananas is centrally placed against a neutral gray background. Instead of natural yellow, the bananas have been spray-painted silver and pitted with small imperfections, giving them the appearance of being cast in pewter. The starkness of the razor-sharp focus and cool steel-gray tones is offset by soft yellow reflections radiating from the bananas. This subtle color play creates a visual conundrum that’s as mystifying as it is compelling.
Many of the works are paired with a second variation of the same still life that differ dramatically in effect. In the companion to the gray banana still life, the bananas are wrapped in crinkled foil, placed on a matching surface and then flooded with blue, red, violet and yellow light. The result is that the bananas are nearly lost in a blaze of shimmering color, an effect akin to those colorblind tests in which the objective is to pick out the hidden image in a field of colored dots.
In another print, a golf club and ball resting on artificial turf are photographed close-up using a narrow depth of field. The unfocused foil background produces a firework-like display of multicolored points of lights. It is a technique used frequently throughout the series.
Many of these images of ordinary objects hint at human activity, but the tight cropping of the arrangements defies elucidation. A shoe nudges a partially deflated football, a foil-wrapped scissors snips at grass, a power saw cuts through wood, a single slice of silver pizza lies in its open box – all implying some unseen tale.
There is an offhanded, improvisational feel to these works. What to do with that last slice of pizza? Spray it silver and make art.
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