John Frost: All Things Drain
The water is gone…nothing remains wet except a clear acrylic box filled with water, so still, it appears not to be water at all. Translucent shower curtains hang on the walls, stretched like canvas encrypted with minimal markings. Plaster sculptures of drain plugs large enough to sit on rest on the lawn and the porcelain-white floor of the interior. A trickle of sand falls in a thin line from a naturally lit ceiling. John Frost’s All Things Drain is full of melancholy and dry humor, punctuated by claustrophobic constrictions and transcendent buoyancy.
A convergence of simple, elegant forms repeats throughout the exhibition. Dam Plug is a small, cylindrical room painted entirely white. On the floor, a footstool-sized plaster sculpture shaped like a drain plug sits dead center, collared by a flat ring of rusted steel. Quiet, inviting, symmetrical and washed with light, the space is evocative of ritual. But entering the space feels unnatural, like stepping into a bathtub with your shoes on. Though light and airy, the cylinder creates mild vertigo. One may remember the panic felt as a child scrambling out of the tub, listening to the throaty suction of bath water rushing into a dark drain hole; a hole capable, no doubt, of sucking away small children.
John Frost, Clean Gesture, 2003
Vinyl and latex paint on vinly shower curtain
65 x 67 x 3 inches
Water Falls, Clean Gesture, and Funnel Down are translucent shower curtains mounted on wooden stretchers that are visible behind the hazy vinyl. The wall surfaces behind these pieces are painted in saturated hues, anchoring the pieces to the architecture of the room. Spare amounts of paint have been applied to the vinyl––sometimes cartoon like; simple water stains remain on others. The artist’s subtle marks are akin to drawing on a steamy mirror with your finger tips. Alone, with this work, a kind of anti-material melancholy sets in. Smart formal minimalism is foiled by the material presence of the vinyl and the plainness of the markings. The acerbic scent of vinyl permeates the galleries. The pieces become chemical shoji screens; quiet, serene, but mildly toxic.
Moving into a hallway, the sound of draining water emanates from the bathroom of the gallery. Upon entering, one finds a small television set behind a taut shower curtain, playing a video tape of water draining down a sink. Mischievously titled In the Presence of a Stranger, the installation toys with the self-conscious weirdness we often feel in public restrooms.
John Frost, Sometimes I Sleep with My Mouth Open, 2003
Installation (detail): Cast plaster, MDF, and steel
The Puckish quality of the video installation is echoed in Frost’s sculpture Sometimes I Sleep with My Mouth Open. Resting on a simple platform the height of a bed is a plaster pillow impaled by a chrome-plated sink drain. The soft lines and billowy form of the pillow are perfectly cast in cotton-white plaster, making the piece as beautifully sensual as it is surreal. Again Frost brings a formalist’s precision to the proportions of the work, pairing it with the wall piece Sixty Nine Ovals, resulting in an intimate tableau of gentle humor and vulnerability.
Stepping from the smallest room into the largest, we encounter Trust, an airy cubical space painted the color of spruce, and topped by a translucent ceiling saturated in north light from the clerestory windows of the gallery. Silently spilling from a shadow in the center of the ceiling is a thin vibrating line of white silica sand, shaping a cone as it lands on the polished concrete floor. The self-conscious themes and devices of the artist fall away in this place. One is not given to thinking, interpreting, but breathing and watching in the mesmerized way one watches a waterfall. The cascading sand has the illusive quality of being beautiful in an utterly simple way. It doesn’t matter that the translucent ceiling is made of vinyl shower curtains or that the sand originates in a bathtub above. The functional identity of the materials is irrelevant. In the end, the artist has found a way out that does not feel like draining away, but rather falling free. Plainly put, Trust transcends.
All Things Drain resonates with an industrial Zen aesthetic; all things must pass…through a pipe, water seeks its own level…through a pipe. Frost begins his work by establishing beautiful forms in a straightforward manner. He then becomes a social realist of sorts by loading imagery with contraption. Nothing binds us together quite like the collective need for water, and nothing poisons us quite like its mismanagement. Frost writes, “…there is a tension that exists between the pure and the perverse, the productive and the destructive, comfort exists only to be overcome by disease.” Or, disease exists only to be overcome by comfort. Frost overcomes such pessimism and discovers that the glass is half full…albeit with sand.