Review ∼ "The Gray Area" by Nancy Callahan

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The Gray Area
by Nancy Callahan

The lower two-thirds of Misha Bittleston's untitled black and white piece (2004-02-21) is dominated by a mysterious gray substance that exhibits traits of both solid and liquid though it can't be definitively classified as either. This enigmatic material gives rise to several interesting (albeit incomplete) interpretations.

The thick bands near the bottom of the canvas suggest smooth stone steps at the rounded corner of a triangular platform. But if the substance were stone, how could the viewer see through the stone to the layers of activity underneath? Misha Bittleston: Untitled, 2004-02-21

This transparence could be accounted for if the substance were liquid. But in that case, the surface ripples (once the stone steps) are triangular instead of circular and impossibly piled up in short, they obey their own unique rules of physics.

To further the ambiguity, the boundary between the gray substance and black area at the top of the canvas evokes a coastline (in that it hints at breaking waves illuminated by moonlight). So if the gray substance were solid, the viewer would be looking out toward the roiling sea from land; if the substance were liquid, the viewer would be looking at land from a boat adrift in some rebellious body of water.

Because this indefinable gray substance straddles states of matter, Bittleston's piece defies easy elucidation. But this dream-like piece does embody an intriguing duality which, by challenging the viewer to resolve apparent discrepancies, arouses a profound sense of appreciation for the depth of the work and the artist himself.

Author Nancy Callahan (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
Nancy Callahan is a freelance writer and editor from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Harvard College.


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