Edward Lane McCartney’s Chromatic Fantasy at the Hooks-Epstein Galleries is a playground for the imagination. He uses the full spectrum of the rainbow to create 2-D and 3-D sculptures from pieces of cardboard, colored paper, foiled boxes, and puzzle pieces. The exhibit is a playful, dynamic world of swirling color that uses the multi-dimensionality of the pieces to play with the viewer’s perception.

Appearing on the left, Radial Chromography #1 looks like a technicolor buffering icon. In order to create this wreath of colors, McCartney carefully lines up each of the pieces of cardboard and colored paper so they are adjacent to one another. While the hard surface of the cardboard provides some structure, the corrugated edges give the piece a texture that makes it pop on the blank canvas of the white wall. Throughout the exhibit, McCartney continues to use this combination of cardboard and colored paper to create textured color gradients that shift as the viewer moves around the piece.  

McCartney’s artistic work reflects Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, the composition that originally inspired him. The musical score begins with a rapid successions of short, articulated notes similar to the carefully organized pieces of cardboard and paper that excite the viewers with bursts of color. Like Bach, McCartney uses his work to create a whimsical, transient experience that is both patterned and unexpected.

Other sculptures, like An Aggregate of All Things, both alarm and invite observers. The ornamental box is lined with a jumble of sharp, metallic pins while the inside is decorated from corner to corner with broken colored pencils, a bed of pebbles, and rows of buttons. Like many of his well-known jewelry items, the box is both functional and aesthetic. The inside drawer pulls in and out while the box closes neatly with the top and bottom segments of cardboard interlocking so that they effortlessly fit together. But McCartney hides the best surprise in the inner compartment, which holds a beautiful brooch that can conveniently be clipped onto a lapel and worn around as a piece of statement jewelry.

In fact, McCartney is known for jewelry like Puzzled #10—a string of puzzle pieces that make for a rare necklace. While the piece is a visual experience with its snake-like appearance, there is also a certain kinesthetic element to it, with the grooves and ridges inviting viewers to touch it. The dull grays of the cardboard backings are broken up by slivers of color that reveal themselves as the wearer moves around, animating the necklace.

Other pieces like Quills #3, Evanescence are not wearable, but they pack a punch on first sight. The neon swirls of paper have been made into a psychedelic collage, appearing like colorful bubbles that have floated to the surface of a multicolored stew. The vibrant rolls of paper protrude out from the wall at different heights, pulling you in with the dynamic 3-D feeling that the piece is growing and evolving in front of your eyes.

McCartney imbues his work with a dynamism and brightness that explores his curiosity with perception, the complexities of the atmosphere’s light and movement, and the relationship between viewers and the site. While the liveliness and vibrance of the exhibition might appeal to viewers, McCartney goes beyond a pleasurable visual experience to interpret what it means to interact or engage with your perception of reality.

Chromatic Fantasy: a complement of color, thru Jan. 6. Hooks-Epstein Galleries, 2631 Colquitt St. 713-522-0718. More info at hooksepsteingalleries.com.

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