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Review: Biggs & Collings exhibit at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts

Posted 8:06am on Tuesday, Apr. 02, 2013

The wife and husband team of Biggs & Collings have brought their paintings and a three-wall text installation to Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. The pair, Emma Biggs, a mosaicist, and Matthew Collings, a writer and painter, work in tandem. For their paintings, she picks the colors and tells him where to paint them on the gridded surface. He obliges her demands. They have such a close working relationship that even though they came to town to talk about art, the question "How do they stay together?" seemed more imperative.

Collings did all the heavy lifting, giving lectures about their art at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on a Tuesday, at Texas Woman's University on Wednesday and at the Nasher Sculpture Center that Thursday, then caught his breath before Biggs arrived for their opening reception March 23 and their joint gallery talk the next day.

Collings can expound, easily and at length.

He has had a great deal of practice, hosting the six-part series This Is Modern Art for the BBC and authoring several books, including, Blimey! From Bohemia to Britpop: The London Artworld From Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst and This Is Modern Art.

Witness the three-wall text panel that was installed in the gallery. Collings took a Merlin Carpenter review of his art practice from 11 years ago, then proceeded to shred it paragraph by paragraph, offering explanations and rebuttals for a discourse in color-coded blocks -- Carpenter's original review is written in gray, but each line is struck through, making it difficult to read. Collings' replies "challenging misrepresentation" are in orange type, "self-explanation" in purple, "world view Biggs and I share" in dark red, and "social, political and aesthetic explanation of our paintings" in brown.

Brown example: "Our paintings and graphics throw down the glove to what's going on now. They are not nihilistic. They are not ironic. They can't be read as an expression of dematerialised, post-industrial production. They start from a conceptual basis, two people from diverse fields turn over and look at lost knowledge, a lost interest -- color."

Reading even a portion of the back and forth is an exercise in tedium. Props to the installation staff for getting every word of it up, but it's a lot of showmanship with little reward for the reader.

The payoff is the paintings. They are lovely.

Biggs & Collings make canvases covered in grids of diamond patterns with randomly colored triangles. Biggs picks the colors and placement that Collings paints. They've been working this way for 15 years. Their paintings sell and the buyers are often people who find them unchallenging and pretty, says Collings. He has no problem calling the works decorative. "They are multiplying rhythms on a dumb grid with no fixed pattern. We are trying to reduce the visual phenomenon we are seeing, to rationalize the visual chaos."

"We are offering visual pleasure of what the decorative entails. Making the philosophical decision of what pleasure is," he says. "We are not invited to be a passive consumer of loveliness, but invited by depth of effort to get involved in everything the painting is doing. Not just being decorative -- it's unpacking the decorative."

More succinct is Biggs: "It is a contrast in subtlety -- hard and soft, surface opacity and transparency, field and figure. Like in mosaics, there isn't an unmeaning piece."

The canvases are, in large part, a field of muted hues that seem to be the fetal forms of the few brights that have burst into being with an intensity that is electrifying. The play of light shimmers across the canvas, as the little diamonds are not solid but often translucent, revealing colors underneath.

"It's an attempt to capture the way light is perceived in nature," says Collings.

Or, as it states in brown type on the wall: "Success in terms of the finished result is efficiency: order and surprise. Failure is chaos: too much surprise."

Gaile Robinson is the Star-Telegram art and design critic, 817-390-7113

Twitter: @gailerobinson

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