As you enter Christian Faur's solo exhibition at Sherrie Gallerie, you'll spot several complete-alphabet sentences remembered from typing class. It's kind of funny that these nearly nonsensical phrases jump out with their easily recognizable English characters, because surrounding them are more direct and meaningful communications in the forms of color swatches, wax crayons and carefully shredded copies of the U.S. Constitution.
The show The Language of Color, and Faur's work as a whole, can be simply but incompletely summed up by a comment he made during a recent phone conversation. "Everything's already been said somehow; it's how you say it."
Faur's studies in physics and mathematics have fueled his distinctive use of character-conveyed information for years, be it binary or DNA code or a relative of pi. In the works on view this month, he offers experiments with a self-created alphabet of colors that align with the English alphabet.
The artist studied color vision and perception, "how our cones and rods break down color," he said. The final assignments came from lots of research and some personal intuition.
Small wooden boxes on pedestals hold the key (the alphabet's also a downloadable font at christianfaur.com), as well as a copy of Faur's multi-hued translation of Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour.
He explained that unlike the letters we're used to, his alphabet comes with a clear gender bias. "One in 10 men are color blind, but only one in 20 women."
It's a statistic that playfully comes into play in Mating Jacket. After purchasing a basic white men's suit jacket, Faur covered it in come-on lines like "Hey baby, what's your sign?" translated into stamped blocks of color. As it recognizes the genetic color-viewing advantage of its target audience and recalls the natural world of vibrantly hued male birds, it questions the perceptions that lead most men to dress on the drabber end of the spectrum.
In Faur's best-known body of work, portraits created from stacks of hand-cast wax crayons, the colored alphabet spells out an attempt to fill in memories from an early childhood lost to familial and geographic upheaval.
In the Forgotten Children series, the faces are monochrome - except for the words written into them in colors - and distinctive characteristics have been softened. They could be recognizable; they could be anyone.
"The colors represent the names of children I might have known but forgot," Faur explained. "It's always nice to have a picture. These are snapshots I've made to fill in space."
With the Pangrams, the small encaustics holding those typing sentences, the color alphabet and an assortment of figures and images you could spend hours dissecting, Faur goes for a lighter, less conceptual form of communication.
"They play off the idea of design, topography and layout," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun with color as a serious font."
These works also gave him a breather between more ambitious, labor-intensive projects, like forming his own alphabet, and the two most timely works in the show: large images of Guantanamo Bay made entirely from copies of the Constitution.
The document has been reprinted by Faur to create the tonal gradients needed for the image, then shredded and fixed in tight horizontal layers. The works make an unmistakable metaphorical statement, with the surprisingly pleasing texture of shag.
It was Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth that first put the image in the artist's head. "It wasn't a huge jump - from George W. Bush shredding the Constitution. It just struck me as perfect."
As Faur explained, the works also reflect an increasingly essential element in his practice: "The material is the message." He cited Do-Ho Suh's Some/One, an elaborate suit of armor made entirely of dog tags, as another example of this idea.
As to how he feels about the possibility of the message of these works being obsolete within the next year (if the president gets his way), Faur said, "Yay! I'm very happy my piece may be relegated to history."
What: "Christian Faur: The Language of Color"
When: Through Feb. 28
Where: Sherrie Gallerie, Short North