The title of Michael Kareken's latest show at the Groveland Gallery comes from what the employees of the Rock-Tenn paper recycling plant in St. Paul call the endless mountains of discarded paper products. And the paintings are as conflicted as the title suggests. His subjects, the Rock-Tenn plant and the American Iron scrap yard in Minneapolis, could easily be described as ugly. But Kareken approaches each pile of discarded oil drums, brakes, and paper products with a soft touch. Edges are slightly blurred, and drab shades of rust and brown are given life in the sunlight Kareken faithfully captures in each painting. He manages to make the mounds of debris look not only graceful but sentimental—like each work is a mostly accurate memory of a childhood haunt. Also noticeable is the lack of people. Kareken has apparently made the conscious decision to leave the men and women working the piles of paper and metal out of the paintings. The effect is that the subjects appear to be natural occurrences. This feeling is especially strong in River View, a view of the Mississippi framed by jumbles of scrap metal that seem to have grown out of the river.
Nov. 30-Jan. 19, 2007