The current exhibition “On the Edge” of three artists working with photography at Spalding Nix Fine Art is a blow-out of pattern and blazing, juicy color. Though the three artists — Atlantans Lisa Tuttle and Spencer Sloan and New Yorker Landon Nordeman — take very different approaches to subject matter and to photography itself, they are united in a surface style beholden to enough visual action to keep your eyeballs engaged.
The ringleader and star of the show, photographer Landon Nordeman, bubbles up the more outrageous, graphic aspects of the fashion world in behind-the-scenes shots of well-heeled fashionistas, models, runway shows and stealth shots of off-the-charts glamour. He’s a fixture for both his fashion and editorial work in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair and CNN, and Nordeman’s “Out of Fashion” book — the source for the images in the Spalding Nix show — was named by Time magazine as one of the best photo books of 2016.
It’s easy to see why. Nordeman has a borderline kinky, winking approach to his subjects, short of adoration but also shy of mockery that is often reminiscent of the quirky, cheeky point of view of Elliott Erwitt mixed with Guy Bourdin’s deliriously amped-up color; Nordeman’s love of neon color suggests the ’80s never died. “Ferragamo (Stripes)” is a dizzying, painterly melee of hues, featuring a designer handbag placed on the pulsating, glossy floor painted in shades of hot pink, Kelly green, black and white.
In his noirish photographs of people, Nordeman often juxtaposes harsh light to illuminate flesh with the contrast of deep shadow. With its interplay of glaring, fish tank light and murky darkness, Nordeman’s image of Iris Apfel, “Dries van Noten (Iris Apfel),” makes the fashion icon and friends look like a Museum of Natural History diorama.
Spencer Sloan also has color on his mind in his hyperkinetic photo-based collages, which suggest the innards of television screens exploding into a pixelated cloud of data. Sloan sources his original images from paparazzi photos of the rich and famous — Charlize Theron, Britney Spears, endless Kardashians — going about their ordinary business — if ordinary means having a flock of shutterbugs recording your daytime trip to the grocery store.
Like Nordeman, Sloan’s big game is the glamorous life, though his conceptual hook is how he denies us the payoff and thrill of our 21st-century drug of choice: celebrity. Sloan’s arch titles — “Kylie Jenner — Shopping at Sephora in Calabasas 1/18/2015, II” and “Gwen Stefani — Leaving Paquito Mas restaurant in Sherman Oaks 4/17/2015”— tease us with a tantalizing brush with fame he never actually delivers. Sloan manipulates those original photographs and explodes them into a miasma of color and pattern. It’s as if he’s offering up the visual thrill of that original celebrity photo in abstracted form, turning fame into pure spectacle, in the process offering a poke in the eye to our obsession with celebrity culture.
Another Atlanta artist, Lisa Tuttle, has long excavated family photographs in examinations of Southern history and race. A few of those images linger in “On the Edge.” But it is Tuttle’s more recent works that show some affinity with Sloan’s and Nordeman’s photographs. Tuttle’s abstract photographs take a single concept and turn it into a kaleidoscopic whir of visual information. In “Studio Blackboard,” meaning is scrambled, as phrases scribbled on a blackboard are mashed up into a collage of highlighted words like “regret” and “fulfillment.” In “Intersection,” a roadway is transformed into a repeated quadrant of inescapable madness. As in Sloan’s work, we struggle for the original context in this concrete maze. What Atlantan couldn’t relate?