|Ted Larsen: Lined Out
Mary Birmingham, Curator at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
For his exhibition, Lined Out, Santa Fe artist Ted Larsen has attached a network of painted sculptural elements to the walls of Studio X, creating an immersive installation that hybridizes painting and sculpture. The individual components are steel rods covered with salvaged polychrome metals, yet their relationship to the walls lends them the appearance of painted lines. Extendingintothegallery’sspace,theyreadassculpturalforms. The dynamic lines meandering across walls and around the gallery create a three-dimensional drawing that envelops the viewer.
Larsen connects and arranges elements of different lengths into a grid, generating patterns that vary in density. The elements intersect at ninety- degree angles, and run parallel or perpendicular to the plane of the wall. While his ordered system consists strictly of horizontal and vertical lines, by angling some of them away from the walls, Larsen creates a perception of diagonal lines, and their cast shadows add to this effect. Some appear to float a few inches from the wall, suggesting architectural elements like girders, beams, and scaffolding.
The individual components are mild steel rods covered with salvage metal from pre-1980s cars, buses, trucks, and other industrial vehicles. The artist prefers the richer quality of older automotive paint and incorporates the vintage colors and patinas into his work. He explains, “Working with pre- painted materials allows me to make reference to history, and possibly to the history of art or painting in particular. Artists are constantly in dialogue with our aesthetic antecedents. We build upon these roots and seek to obfuscate or subvert them at the same time.”
One obvious antecedent is Piet Mondrian. More than a century ago, the Dutch artist began making paintings that distilled everything in the real world down to its essence, which he expressed through a balance of horizontal and vertical elements. His use of color and line in works like Composition (1916) achieved a sense of harmony and rhythm that is also present in Lined Out. Unlike Mondrian, however, Larsen allows his forms to display volume and depth.
Larsen’s work also shares some characteristics with 1960s Minimalism: the use of prefabricated industrial materials; repetitive geometric forms; a modular approach to construction; and a diminished distinction between painting and sculpture. But his work also references the history embedded in its materials. For example, the yellow metal prominent throughout theinstallation reveals its past life as a school bus. By removing materials from their original sources and building alternative endings, Larsen invites us to see them in new and perhaps nostalgic ways.
The multiple meanings of the term, “lining out” resonate with the artist. In music, lining out is a type of call-and-response singing in which a leader sings or chants each line of a hymn as it is to be sung by the congregation. This repetitive building up of musical parts into a whole song is analogous to Lined Out, which repeats and combines uniformly proportioned line segments into a cohesive construction. Larsen periodically disrupts the harmonious flow of his composition by accentuating an unexpected element and syncopating the work’s internal rhythm.
Lining out can also mean arranging an extended line or route. There is a conceptual link between the installation’s materials—metal sourced from automobiles, school buses, and trucks—and the map-like lines they form in the gallery, which resemble the very routes they may have traversed in their previous lives. This idea of lining out a route has special relevance, since the installation plots a path for the eye to follow. In some areas the line takes a turn away from the wall, literally “lining out” into the physical environment of the gallery. With this installation, Larsen has lined out visual and metaphorical journeys that navigate us beyond the confines of the white cube.