Neon faces and anxious places by Bonnie Brenda Scott at James Oliver Gallery

Arts / Article

Neon is the name of the game at James Oliver Gallery right now – both in color and in substance. Bonnie Brenda Scott, whose name you might recognize from Space 1026 or similar locales, has been active in Philadelphia and New York for some time, concocting bright, biological paintings and multimedia works, the latest of which are currently on display for her solo show, “The Year of No.”

Lining the walls of the lengthy gallery space, Scott has assembled illuminated shelves rigged up with fluorescent bulbs, which hold up the painted, laser cut, plastic portraiture that makes up the bulk of the exhibit. Calling these images portraits, however, is somewhat misleading. While faces and figures are indeed the catalyst for many of Scott’s works, these representations tend to fade into the patterns of wavy, cutout pixels that the artist slices into the acrylic sheets. Add to this the play of lighting that exists as part of the art as much as the physical objects, and it becomes clear that these pieces are figurative in only the most basic sense.

Bonnie Brenda Scott, “Untitled III.”

Scott selects the most vivid and astringent shades of piercing orange, nuclear yellow, and hot pink to construct most of the objects here. Situated around, and even as a part of some of these flat compositions, the artist also includes lighting fixtures full of actual neon gas for good measure. These lights glow with their signature electrically-charged ambiance, casting similar garish colors on the walls and other artworks. Wires and electrical components from these lights lie out in the open, revealing the guts of the show in a seeming protest against artistic dishonesty, or at least consciously defying an immaculate presentation.

Of the figures here, some are facing away from the viewer, and others are distorted and stretched out of proportion, leaving speckled, digital streaks in their wake. Interference patterns and pixels of different sizes spread out across the surfaces, creating pictures that, when viewed in anything less than their entirety, appear nothing at all like faces. As such, Scott’s depictions appear wrought with stress and frustration despite their colorful countenances, their shapes twisted by internal struggles.

Bonnie Brenda Scott, "Untitled II."

Bonnie Brenda Scott, “Untitled II.”

Beneath two front-facing heads with neon arches affixed to their foreheads instead of a fluorescent light, we find more neon in the shape of the words “All Sides.” Being bombarded on all sides would certainly account for the glitches and generally warped appearance of the pair, their intimate feelings broadcast through external characteristics.

Bonnie Brenda Scott, "Untitled XI."

Bonnie Brenda Scott, “Untitled XI.”

Along the furthest wall in the space, we find police gun range targets behind tinted Plexiglas, their surfaces riddled with more rippling laser cut patterns and paint instead of bullet holes. This visual gag further draws from anxieties of the modern world with cops and robbers and hostages, except it captures the drama through the lens of Scott’s noxious green filters and other alterations.

Bonnie Brenda Scott, "Untitled V."

Bonnie Brenda Scott, “Untitled V.”

We also discover a few instances of text mixed in amongst the images. Although every piece here is effectively untitled, a few strategically placed words provide context. Most obviously the phrase “But here, god puts the flood” captures our imagination through the Biblical story of the great deluge. As if wishing for some type of purification in the face of the social, emotional and technological distress, Scott’s mostly forward-thinking aesthetic ultimately falls back on the ancient, even if these messages are written in plastic and illuminated by electricity. “The Year of No” will be on display through March 21.

James Oliver Gallery is located on the 4th floor at 723 Chestnut St., Philadelphia; 267-918-7432; jamesolivergallery.co.