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Here Be Dragons: Space as the Final Frontier (PHOTOS)

10/31/2012 11:46 am ET | Updated Dec 31, 2012

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Neutrino II, 2012, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 36" x 24",
Courtesy the artist and George Billis Gallery

Bonita Helmer's current show, Here Be Dragons, continues the artist's investigation with space as the "final frontier," while also going all micro on us. It's interesting visual poles, swinging from the macro-pole in deep space to the micro-pole in sub-atomic particles. Both structures are a stand-in for deeper issues, for a way of perceiving a constantly evolving social framework and for a physical environment that is often in tumult. Using the concepts of star nursery, crystal lattice, gravitino, sparticle and neutrino, Helmer toggles back and forth between imperceptible pieces of matter. These descriptions of matter are indiscernible to the eye either because of their physical vastness or infinitesimal form. It's these known and yet unknown entities that the artist tries to put into representational form for us.

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Here Be Dragons IV, 2012, Acrylic & spray paint on canvas, 60"x60",
Courtesy the artist and George Billis Gallery

Helmer's paintings imagine these structures using cues from color-infused Hubble telescopes and scientific technical drawings. The paintings envision the universe as morphing bodies of matter, where hue is almost sexual in its splattering of seed while being constrained in boxes and corners that are surprising merely by their presence. Each abstracted image seems to be birthing other stars, energies or new languages, sometimes all of these simultaneously. Masses float in space yet are made less than alien by referencing hints of scientific inquiry with faint tracings of formulas, diagrams and charts that are more like apparitions than footnotes. Like images erased on a chalkboard, they remain even if only in powdery traces.

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Gravitino, 2011, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 36" x 48",
Courtesy the artist and George Billis Gallery

As one peers closely at the works, in a way impossible to do with a telescope or a microscope, one sees that Helmer has used her painterly technique to invoke earthly metals and gases. Influenced by Surrealists, Helmer's orbs are at once abstract and virtual. It's this combination of imagery that is at once familiar via the Internet and one's personal imaginings that invents endless space as a place of creation for planets immeasurable in our mind's eye and particles that are invisible to all but our inner vision.

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Crystal Lattice I, 2012, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 60" x 60",
Courtesy the artist and George Billis Gallery