Michael Schall, Tubular Cage, 2011, graphite on paper, 29 x 20.5 in.

It’s a wonderful thing to behold when an artist’s technical proficiency serves a higher calling. The exquisitely crafted graphite drawings in Michael Schall’s show Hinder at Platform Gallery reflect over and over a basic conflict of the human psyche, between our desire for conscious control and the eruptions of instinct. Friedrich Nietzsche—if he still roamed the earth—would no doubt be pleased to see this succinct manifestation of a principle he defined as a struggle between Apollo and Dionysus.

It’s a trope that animates all the drawings in Hinder, which range from two large works dating from 2010 to a series of tiny ones (in the six-inch-and-under range) from 2012, but plays out most impressively in a series of collaborations with a papermaker done last year. Here Schall—a Brooklyn artist with an MFA from Pratt Institute—experiments, incorporating graphite into the wet pulp to create vaporous eruptions, then, when the paper is dry, asserting control over the imagery with meticulous linear constructs. Some are spherical cages, like wire globes, which encase but can’t contain billowing mushroom clouds; others resemble mesh tubes, cages or more improvised methods of restraints—each ingenious but doomed to fail. 

Michael Schall, Tarp, 2011, graphite on paper, 29 x 20.5 in.

While suggestive of personal psychological dramas, the images also embrace the broader concerns of our world. The 2011 Tarp, for example—a dark sort of balloon-like structure holding down a wafting cloud—resonates with the notion of greenhouse gases and climate change as well as the idea of economic bubbles, collapses, and bailouts. The title of the exhibition, Hinder, encompasses it all, from the way we attempt to block or contain natural processes in the environment, to the thoughts we stuff behind the veil of our subconscious.

From a strictly formal perspective Schall’s work is equally satisfying. His compositions are generally simple, focused on a single element, made vibrant through painstakingly worked surfaces that balance glowing light against rich, palpable shadow, embellished with magnifying glass–worthy texture. Scale is left to the imagination: The arced vault of the 2010 Lava Tube could be the home of a microscopic worm, an image from a colonoscopy, or the uncharted expanse of a spelunking cave.

Michael Schall: Hinder
Thru Nov 24, Platform Gallery