Art Review: Obvious Goes Elegant at Form + Content

It’s rare when you get to congratulate an artist on his obviousness.

But there can be an elegance to the self-evident, and props go to local painter Jim Dryden, who, in a wand-waving act of art installation, has transformed the Form + Content gallery into a political message that finds potency in its simplicity. His new solo show is called “Love | Hate.” But the title may as well be “It’s like this, folks.” Entering the gallery is like walking into a bumper sticker.

And I mean that in a good way.

Here’s the background: Dryden’s gay. And the year 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of his lifelong relationship with his lover and partner Wayne Groff. Of course, 2012 is also the year in which Minnesotans will vote on a constitutional amendment seeking to legally define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Dryden opposes the amendment, and in painterly protest, he’s created 15 new abstract, narrative works that celebrate his and Groff’s life together.

The works are vibrantly colored, lacquered and jewel-like—the jpeg on this blog doesn’t do them justice—and draw comparisons to stained glass shot through with sunlight. (A glistening, ripe color palette is Dryden’s hallmark.) But they’re also mostly murky. Sure, we get some scenes—domestic tableaux of poolside lounging, for example, or of a church ceremony. But the vignettes tend to materialize subtly, emerging from storms of blunted brush strokes.

The abstraction is key. The paintings come across as feelings, innate and human—i.e.: ungovernable by law. This is the “Love” part of the show.

The “Hate” part is far more ham-handed. On computer monitors positioned around the gallery, Dryden mounts slideshows of images from the pro-marriage amendment movement. Westboro Church demonstrations. “God Hates Fags” signs. Newspaper clippings with screaming headlines.

The message? Love is an essence, airy and innocent. And anti-gay political maneuvers are clunky and embarrassingly man-made.

Is this didactic? Yup. Is it unfair to pit abstraction against documentary in an appeal for hearts? Maybe. But again, Dryden has enough chops to convert the obvious into the intrinsic.

The strength of the show is seeing an artist wade into the sermonizing realm of political art and come out not only with his dignity in tact, but with a suite of cheery, aesthetically mature paintings.

Love | Hate
Opening reception: March 31, 6 p.m.
Donations for Minnesotans United for All Families will be accepted during the opening reception.
Form + Content Gallery, 210 N. 2nd St., Suite 104, Mpls.