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Art Review: 'Corey Escoto: Sleight of Hand' at Carnegie Museum of Art

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Corey Escoto
Corey Escoto's 'Gemstone in the Sky,' 2012; Fuji Color Instant Film 'Polaroid”; 4? x 5? (15.5? x 12.5? framed)

Corey Escoto is a name not well-known among Pittsburgh's art cognoscenti, but with his “Sleight of Hand” having recently opened in Gallery One at the Carnegie Museum of Art, this young artist is definitely one to watch.

Born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1983, Escoto received a bachelor of fine arts from Texas Tech University in 2004 and a master of fine arts from Washington University in St. Louis in 2007. He moved here in 2010, settling in Shadyside.

“Sleight of Hand” is his first solo museum exhibit, and, with 15 ingeniously crafted photographs and more than a dozen sculptures, it's quite a solid representation of a different approach to photography as art.

Each of the photographs are analog composites made from multiple exposures. Unretouched, each is a 4-inch by 5-inch print created not with Photoshop, but by a multiexposure process whereby the artist makes light-blocking stencils that allow for sections of the film to be exposed selectively.

To create each image, Escoto must align a series of stencils to create one seamless image. Escoto says the entire process happens “in camera” and the resulting “Polaroid” is therefore a controlled but a blind guesswork of time, placement and overall harmony.

Escoto uses the recently discontinued Fuji Color FP-100c45 Polaroid film, the last commercial 4-by-5 instant film stock available.

“The photos are made by cutting and placing stencils inside the camera and shooting through them so that the film is only exposed one small section at a time,” Escoto says. “A single photo may have four to 30 or so different exposures. Most of the time, it is in the 10 to 15 range, so each image is comprised of many different images from many different locations and times.”

His photograph “Gemstone in The Sky” offers a perfect example of the culmination of this technique. In it, a seascape is reflected in a faceted diamond shape that hovers above the horizon line. The diamond is a composite image made from various viewpoints found within the image.

Sometimes, Escoto gets the desired effect photographing on location, as was the case for “Navajo Point Diamond,” which was shot on location at the Grand Canyon.

Other times, Escoto shoots different photos to get the same effect, as with “Conjoined Rooms” in which Escoto collected images via camera phone as well as from the computer screen.

“With this in mind, I'm interested in the interplay between the emerging digital technologies and the waning analog processes and the short window of time when these overlap,” he says.

The finished Polaroid ironically ends up looking like a dated, 3-D rendered image in many cases. In some respects, it is fitting, because the Polaroids then become a sort of blueprint for the making of a sculpture.

For example, in works like “Carrera Marble, Tom and Kate, Subway Grate” and “It's A Sculpture #2” the textures of reality, as seen in the photographs incorporated into the piece, are mimicked through the incorporation of “faux” materials that draw to mind the texture of marble, wood and fabric.

“When I first made a 3-D representation of a 2-D object, I was thinking about it as reverse engineering the image, and then came to think of it as an reversal of photographic process entirely — a decompression of space and time,” Escoto says. “During the photographic process, things become flat, so I really enjoy using a variety of tactile materials — real, simulated and photographic representations.”

The irony in Escoto's work, whether it be in the form of a photograph or sculpture, is that these pieces are derived from reality and yet are not meant to document the observable world. Through the simultaneous layering of analog and digital, as well as the relationship between natural and simulated elements such as marble and Formica, Escoto creates objects that are as real and palpable as the sources that went into the making of each.

This exhibit is part of the citywide 2014 Pittsburgh Biennial, which is an ongoing series begun 20 years ago at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts as a way to celebrate artists in the region. With opening events throughout the summer and fall, the 2014 partner venues are the Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Mattress Factory, the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Space gallery.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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