Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books

Ampersand Gallery: Jason Silva’s furniture music

The New York artist's deceptively simple graphite drawings conceal odd depths and perspectives


A series of smallish pictures lines the wall as you enter the gallery space at Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books. They’re all graphite works done on paper by Jason Silva (NYC), part of Land Purchase, an exhibition on view till the end of this month. With the right amount of room for long standing looks, you can “read” the nine images from left to right—like a picture book, or stills from an old moving picture—and get a different story every time.

Silva has described the pictures as sets for films—with various interior-scene accoutrements like shutters, stovepipes, posts, stools, and billowy curtains—that will never, could never, be made. As in the unforgettable opening scene from Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, the viewer is dropped into an unaccountable frame, at 7 x 10 inches, to consider how to interact with and among strange objects and to ponder their effect. I might liken them to something out of a set for Les Six, the group of French composers guided by Erik Satie’s idea of music taken unseriously and a thing to take in without undue effort—“furniture music” is what Satie cheekily called it. Silva’s furniture music is the perfect setting for imagination. Like wordless background music, or Antonioni’s scene, we’re given enough clarity of detail and pictorial access, but aren’t handed any specific idea. Silva uses the device of surprise by letting various nuances of otherwise banal designs become something novel by their nearness.

Jason Silva, “3-23-17″/Courtesy Ampersand Gallery

Having only seen his works on Instagram (of all places), I found Silva’s drawings totally different in person. They’re simple black, white and gray, but their elements and settings baffle the eye. In 3-23-17, the interior-exterior dichotomy is on full display— a stick-house form stands out on a receding horizon backdropped by a stylized fire that emerges from behind the horizon line. A little striped pyramid and a large crater in the foreground command the far edges of the paper. Smoke funnels “underground,” from the distant flames and beneath the pyramid form, compressing the distance to reverse the shading that tricks the eye into seeing “distance.” Silva’s fitful tableaus are pretty out-there, but due to Silva’s clarity of detail and image rendering, they’re also eerily familiar.


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