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Tim Ebner
at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Preview by Diane Calder

Years ago Tim Ebner looked at a comic strip of goofy fish and exclaimed "That's perfect," and fifteen years later he is still making his fish.

Opening February 11, 2012


Readers intent on utilizing this preview as a kind of Goggle map, complete with titles, dimensions, placement in the gallery and unabridged descriptions of every work designated to be exhibited in Tim Ebner’s eagerly anticipated new show, are out of luck. Decisions governing what will make the cut were yet to be finalized as publication deadlines approached, facilitating a shift in my focus towards insights gained regarding Ebner’s practice, production and concerns during a discussion with the artist while examining some of the new work in his studio early in January. 


A collection of half used, dust covered tubes of paint rests enshrined in a cabinet nearly hidden behind new work. The paint tubes constitute the first reminder that Ebner’s savvy awareness of a variety of potentials for artistic expression is grounded in his impressive examination of abstract and narrative painting.


In a 1996 interview with Mitchell Syrop, Ebner commented on one of his paintings that featured two green and one orange fish. “That was where I was really struggling. I was getting some things to happen, but I saw this comic strip of these goofy fish and I said ‘That’s perfect’. I can make these goofy fish and I can float them around anywhere I want on the picture plane because they’re fish, they’re in the water. And that popped the whole thing open for me.”


Years later, Ebner’s desire to float fish in space took off. He mounted curved, exuberantly painted, canvas covered zany depictions of fish on metal wall brackets, creating the illusion of schools of fish swimming in midair. Critic David Pagel described the fish-shaped paintings in Ebner’s 2010 show as comprising “a world of luscious color, exuberant brush strokes and fish of all shapes and stripes.” Painting is missing from the current work, but luscious color, stripes and fish floating in space, surface for an encore.


Ebner’s newest schools of fish command attention as they tower above studio visitors and the sewing machine he learned to use in fabricating them. Elevated to heights of up to ten feet, on slender, wavy metal apertures, the fish are clothed in a variety of fabrics purchased in L A’s garment district. The range of styles, including expensive embroidered silk in baroque patterns, monochromatic knits as lustrous as light and space sculptures, and dizzying black and white, neo-geo checks, suggests that each fashionably garbed fish in Ebner’s newest school could be considered the stand-in for an art historical movement. Even if Ebner’s decision to dress fish freed from painted backgrounds in diverse patterns of fabricated skins is grounded in the quest for sheer aesthetic pleasure, his work simultaneously provokes speculation concerning the impact integration, colonialism and internationalism have on contemporary art and society.


The overall shape of every soft-bodied creature in Ebner’s family of fish is similar, but the fins, (selected with as much care as the obi enhancing a geisha’s kimono), are stuffed with a material capable of holding the angle and direction that brings life to their form. Magnets connecting each fish to its pole allow additional adjustments to the flow. Glistening glass eyeballs, originally designated for the likes of lions and tigers and bears, were re-purposed by Ebner from taxidermy supply stock. They also function as an inside joke referencing the artist’s reputation for painting animals’ eyes realistically. 


As a studio arts professor at Cal State University, Los Angeles, Ebner has access to professional grade metal and ceramic shop equipment, enabling him to work three dimensionally in more than one media. Ebner’s zest for coaxing form out of blistering hot metal left him with scars and notoriety for setting off the sprinkler system. His brother, a tugboat driver, scavenged a portion of the metal acquiring a rusty patina in a stand of sturdy sculptures of sea creatures outside Ebner’s studio. Luscious glazes coat his high fire ceramic eels and other enticing bottom feeders. All told, Ebner’s insatiable energy and commitment to experimentation with process warrants careful contemplation of his newest work. 


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2012

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