Benjamin Morris looks at Mitchell Lonas’ current exhibition at Callan Contemporary, which evokes the mesmerizing shapes of starlings in flight.
518 Julia Street
March 3 - April 22, 2016
Scientists are still trying to understand the nature of murmurations, one of the more enduring mysteries of species behavior. The term given to the collective flights of starlings, a murmuration appears, from a distance, to act as a single living organism, while famously, the thousands of birds that form one rarely, if ever, collide. The phenomenon is heralded as much for its beauty as for its complexity and has inspired countless recordings and depictions, by professionals and amateurs alike.
Add one more. In his new exhibition, “Convergence,” at Callan Contemporary, Mitchell Lonas brings the murmuration to an unexpected medium: painted aluminum. Using his signature technique, Lonas drenches massive panels of aluminum in matte black, then scores the paint with instruments such as blades and needles to reveal the lustrous metal below. The effect is a study both in precision and contrast: the greys and silvers leap off the flat background, catching and reflecting the light from one angle, muting and diffusing it from another. Shifts in stance yield new perspectives, as the play of light creates new patterns at each glance.
Under Lonas’ careful hand, scratches and squiggles become individual birds diving and soaring in flight, as the flocks ebb and flow. Particularly impressive is his use of negative space, such as in Murmuration, Rome, in which starlings swarm around a central patch of blackness. Other works in the show, such as his trees, birds’ nests, and waterfalls are less dynamic and, ultimately, less interesting. The starlings remain the stars. If scientists are still searching for a language to describe this behavior, luckily, artists are too.