Cal Lane: Sweet Crude
Text by Marsha Taichman
Cal Lane remembers her grandmother making cupcakes, then covering them with paper doilies and sifting icing sugar on their tops to create a decorative lace pattern. It is an accessible memory from her childhood that is revealing of the cultural inheritance she brings to her practice. In Lane’s series Powdered Tires, large car tires stand upright in the gallery that have been dusted with powdered sugar in latticed designs. The gentle impermanence and frivolity of the sugar seems to oppose the firm practicality and mobility of the tires, suggesting both utilitarian and domestic productions, and stereotypically masculine and feminine roles. Lane not only trained as an artist but also as a welder, and cultivated her skills for fabricating functional objects as an artistic technique. Contrasts are integral to Lane’s tactile 2- and 3-dimensional sculptures. There are elements of hard and soft, strong and delicate, masculine and feminine, art and craft, inside and outside, ancient and contemporary in her pieces.
In Sweet Crude, Lane takes industrial objects, including oil cans, and incises them with ornate patterns. These cans are endowed with a completely new, aestheticized purpose. They manage to retain a sense of their former lives since they are identifiable for what they once were. The cans’ familiarity as functional objects and their uniqueness as an artistic medium make them accessible to a wide range of viewers. The cuttings depict power struggles between coupling mythological beings, urban street scenes and animal-studded landscapes, to name a few scenarios. Whole worlds are mapped out and carved from the metal surfaces of these cans. Splayed into cross-shapes, it is easy to discern continents and bodies of water in the tableaux. Up close, there are striking forms and details nestled in the red or black filigree: a pickup truck, a gunman, a maiden in profile.* These silhouetted people and objects reveal as much as they conceal, and they do not amount to a cohesive whole. Consider the exhibition’s title: The term “sweet crude” refers to the most sought-after form of petroleum. It is a vast understatement to say this is a resource that nations have fought to gain and to protect. In examining the power struggles of war or sex, a straightforward narrative is impossible. Clear allegorical expectations will not be met in the tangled tales Lane weaves. And the raw beauty of the objects confuses the complicated issues to which they are alluding.
* The work that I am directly referring to is Oil Drum Map of the World #1, 2008, 70.5 x 79 inches, plasma-cut steel oil drum.