Ultra Buzz

Karin Davie · Peter Hopkins · Tom Moody · James Sienna · Fred Tomaselli

Ultra Buzz is an exhibition that examines the resurgence of pronounced optical effects in the work of five painters. The Op Art movement – peaking in the wake of mid-60s World's Fair optimism – lost its critical appeal as it transmuted almost overnight from canvas into clothing design. Since the 1980s, however, numerous artists have revisited perceptual phenomena involving pulsating patterns, afterimages, vibrating illusionistic space and other sensations often associated with altered states.

As philosophers, computer scientists and neurologists grapple with the nature and location of consciousness, '60s counterculture's more intuitive discoveries – such as the visceral undertones of a droning electric guitar and the mantras and mandalas of Eastern religions – have been gradually assimilated by the popular media and honed to digital perfection in the form of Magic Eye calendars, "rave" culture techno-psychedelia, 3-D screensavers, mesmerizing TV graphics and high-definition video games. In contrast to color-field painting's adherence to rigid formalism, Minimalism's dismissal of metaphor and Op's "shalt not" attitude towards imagery, the artists in Ultra Buzz infuse their eye-popping abstractions with provocative references to this highly charged visual landscape.

A dual concern for modernist abstraction and far-reaching popular reference continues in works from the early '90s to the present. Paintings that may appear at first glance to be nothing more than patterned stripes, concentric circles or spirals are actually grounded in the real world. Karin Davie's undulating stripes make sly references to female anatomy and heroic abstraction, and Fred Tomaselli's intricately arranged pills allude to art's transformative potential and the prevalence of chemical consumption.

Op's burgeoning and diverse presence in the work of emerging artists suggests that it is, as Tom Moody has written, "an unfinished project." What began in the early '80s as a critique of a failed movement has become more openly experiential. Investigating what Tomaselli has called "the mechanics of seduction," the work in Ultra Buzz tests the blurry boundaries between transient sensory titillation and transforming experiences.

Employing diverse media, strategies and techniques, these artists either paint on canvas, aluminum, stainless steel or wood panel or work in other two-dimensional formats, using materials such as resin, collages Xeroxes, pharmaceuticals and computer printouts.

The exhibition is accompanied by a gallery guide featuring the essay "Circular Reasoning" by Barry Blinderman, director, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal.

New York artist Karin Davie was born in 1965 in Toronto, Canada, and she earned a BFA in 1987 from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and an MFA in 1989 from Rhode Island School of Design.

Peter Hopkins was born in 1955 in Framingham, Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Stamford, Connecticut, and Brooklyn, New York. In 1978 he earned a BFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and in 1982 he graduated with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Based in New York, Tom Moody was born in Texas and studied at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and the Corcoran School of Art, Washington, D.C., and in 1977 earned a BA in English Literature and Studio Art from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

New York artist James Sienna was born in 1957 in Oceanside, California. In 1979 he earned a BFA from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Fred Tomaselli was born in 1956 in Santa Monica, California. He earned a BA in Painting and Drawing in 1982 from California State University, Fullerton, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.