Alchemy of art

The work of Bart Vargas at Dayton Visual Arts Center

By Jud Yalkut

Bart Vargas, “The Visible Spectrum,” 2011, latex paint and epoxy resin on panel.

Bart Vargas, “The Visible Spectrum,” 2011, latex paint and epoxy resin on panel.

Bart Vargas is a Minneapolis-based artist who has shown internationally, most recently at the 2010 Fourth Beijing International Art Biennale (BIAB) in China. Both a painter and a sculptor, Vargas received his M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota with his work featured in the MFA Thesis Exhibition, “Everybody is an Astronaut” at the University’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery in the Regis Center for the Arts.

Many of the colorful and semi-geometrically based pieces from that thesis exhibition comprise Vargas’ latest show called the “Alchemy of Art” at the Dayton Visual Arts Center running through December 30.

With his earlier sculptural pieces like the large and complex “Rhombicuboctohedron” (2010), combining as its name implies several mathematical solid structures, Vargas has extended his long-term fascination with “exploring the artistic potential of trash and recyclable materials … using pattern, repetition and form … to build sculptures and installations that have blurred the identity of these everyday materials.” He is determined that his creations “act as artifacts and evidence of the early 21st century,” and his use of discarded materials serves as a wry commentary on extraordinary consumption “in an era of limited resources.”

Likewise, his paintings are re-workings of found and recyclable materials and are fashioned from latex paint and epoxy paint on wooden panels. This use of uncommon industrial materials as aesthetic mediums imparts a sense of texture and impasto that mimics relief work and bring depth into the illusionary converging perspectives that comprise individual panels.

Vargas notes that the cross-cultural master of world mythology, Joseph Campbell, observed “that people do not want to understand life; they want to experience it as fully as they possibly can.” The artist equates this with his art being a celebration conveyed by “their energy, movement, color and form” leaving the painting’s surface and entering a space or “even better, the viewer.”

The works in “Alchemy of Art” are all assembled from individual panels, either rectangular or irregular, creating active wall mosaics of interactivity in what can comprise variable dimensions which make the installations site-specific. Vargas is gently insistent on mounting his own pieces, with an active intuitive relation that imparts a distinct individuality to each installation.

Several of these assembled pieces are titled “The Multi-verses” and all date from 2011. “The Multi-verse 2” is made up of six square panels in a vertical configuration, each panel glistening in its industrialized color glory with converging vortices of variegated brilliant hues. Each panel creates its own sense of space and in configuration makes reference to its neighbors like parallel universes. “The Multi-verse 1” imparts a similar effective configuration, and both assemblies draw the viewer within to enjoy the richness of color and surface gloss with which the latex and epoxy resin media radiate.

“Multi-verses 1 and 2” respectively begin and end the sequence in which the works are hung, and the piece simply labeled “The Multi-verse” (2011) appears fifth before the end of the sequence. Larger, it is formed of a matrix of six vertical and five horizontal panels and its total effect is of expansive space punctuated by three seemingly random darker-toned panels amidst a sea of gently restrained softer but nevertheless converging segments. Red and pink, orange and brown, and blue/purple and black float within their neighbors in a freely-ranging random configuration that keeps the viewer’s eye engaged.

“Dichotomy” (2010) is larger configuration of elements which vary from the rectangular to the rhomboidal to jagged irregularity, all relatively unified with black and white stripes augmented occasionally with the surprise of stripes of red, blue, and green, and one rectangle of rainbow stripes. Some panels depart from the white ground and introduce shades of pale blue or khaki tan, with Vargas playfully introducing internal patterns in some panels and even occasional freely-applied smears of paint. “The Imperfect Universe” (2010) appears like a companion piece, but with more multi-colored stripes on the variegated segments, color having invaded the total field of vision.

The largest work in Vargas’ “Alchemy of Art” is the sprawling “The Visible Spectrum” (2011) which breaks away from constrained space into an irregularly stepped progression of radiating color panels progressing through the spectrum. The color groupings seem to diminish slightly in size as they move through the rainbow, with the red variations consuming a larger area, the orange group unexpectedly dipping below the horizon as it were, and the blue and purple tapering off to the right as the total configuration almost consumes an entire wall.

The Dayton Visual Arts Center is located at 118 N. Jefferson Street in downtown Dayton. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, but the gallery will close at 2 p.m. on December 24, and be closed December 25. Call (937) 224-3822 or visit for more information.

Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at

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Jud Yalkut
NY born, moved to Ohio in 1973 to be Assistant Professor of Art at Wright State University (1973-1977); in NYC taught at School for Visual Arts, York College of the City University, and NYU Continuing Ed; six-time recipient of OAC Individual Artist Fellowings (including one in Criticism); 2005 Ohioana Citation in the Visual Arts in Ohio; 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District.

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