A small scroll tucked into the mouth of a tall, slender bottle tips the viewer off to the title of Brian Flinn’s digital collage series, Message in a Bottle. Currently on view at The Gallery at The Blake Hotel, Flinn’s prints each feature a bottle—maybe two—layered among intriguing forms, inviting attempts to impose some kind of narrative and make sense of what you’re seeing.

Always at a tilt, always darker in color so they pop from their surroundings, some of the bottles bear hints of traditional liquor labels—Apple Flavored Whiskey, JJ&S. Others display a more fanciful mark—a 1969 postmark, a photograph of a bank of roses. Some are corked, some are open. Each inhabits its own fantastical world. The curve of the earth in Message in a Bottle #13 (2017) is made of a chart of different types of rays—radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays—though you won’t see that unless you step in very close. On its curved surface, men run in an awkward stance like action figures, their silhouettes echoed by a toy soldier with a gun, a kangaroo and, mirroring them, a “cork” made of a Felix the Cat toy that stares dumbly at the action below. It’s a world of push and pull, life and death. A bouquet of flowers sprouts from a red sun. A flock of birds circles the bottle with olive branches in their beaks. A transparent skull lurks at the bottom of the bottle.

sponsored by

New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Some of Flinn’s bottles are set among more abstract elements. A pair in Message in a Bottle #7 (2017), for example, are sunk in a field like sand that fades to blue sky, all of it woven together with a white grid like burlap. In Message in a Bottle #4 (2017), triangles that shimmer like folded bits of aluminum seem to orbit a floating red bottle. Each image seeks a seesaw balance between elements—earth and sky, light and dark—as well as forms. In Message in a Bottle #13, for example, both the paper horizon and the bottle are slightly tilted in one direction, while the contrails striping a blue sky in the opposite corner provide a counter. While the “messages” may seem inscrutable to a viewer, Flinn had a particular recipient in mind: his wife, who died shortly before he created these prints.

As it happens, you can also see a dozen of Flinn’s new, larger digital collages and two small mixed media works at Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville, where his joint show with R. F. Wilton is on view through November 28. At the Blake gallery, also curated by Kehler Liddell, Flinn’s five Message in a Bottle prints are part of the new exhibition Phantezein, a show introducing new work suggesting “visible invisible realities and heightened sensory states.” Alongside Flinn, in William C. Butcher’s large, textured abstract paintings, liquid lines spill into cracks and around familiar and strange shapes, creating interior landscapes both brooding and unsettling. Sean Patrick Gallagher’s landscapes are more traditional in form, almost like postcards of West Cork, Ireland, where his grandmother was raised. These compact paintings rely on an electric color palette to recast the seashore into an oddly lit land that can read almost like a photographic negative, in which the contrast is heightened by highlights in black shadow rather than bright light. Jeffrey L. Gangwisch’s digital photographs feature human silhouettes in bubbles of light against a dark background that calls up deep space. Even when the figures are together, they feel inextricably lonely.

The gallery at The Blake occupies a hallway outside High George, the hotel’s sixth-floor bar. The first show mounted in this Kehler Liddell outpost was swiftly shut down by the arrival of the pandemic in March of 2020. Since then, two other shows have been quietly hung, but traffic through the hotel has been curtailed. This fourth time may be the charm. In an email, Muffy Pendergast, assistant director of KLG, noted hope in this otherworldly show, which “finally pulled us out of pandemia with a proper opening, passed appetizers and elegant stemmed glasses of wine and bubbly”—no longer a fantasy, but Phantezein.

The Gallery at the Blake Hotel – 9 High St, New Haven (map)
through 12/31
(203) 390-5352 | info@theblakenewhaven.com

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1a-c, featuring Message in a Bottle #2, 11 and 13, provided courtesy of Brian Flinn. Image 2, featuring What She Left, and What She Kept 1, provided courtesy of Sean Patrick Gallagher.

More Stories