Sophie Mulgrew, Musée Magazine, April 6, 2023

Since the beginning of time, artists and creators have drawn inspiration from the sky and all the wonders it contains. The Marshall Gallery’s latest exhibition “Touch the Sun” explores this dynamic, taking a particular interest in the relationship between creators and the sun. The exhibition features three different artists who each work in distinct mediums of photo sculptural practice.


The main gallery space features the work of California-based artist Chris McCaw. McCaw’s work is innovative and scientifically inclined. He creates images through the exposure of gelatin silver papers in a camera lens. The technique reveals striking records of light; lines and slashes that seem to dash across their dark backgrounds. In certain images, McCaw uses a custom-built aperture lens to work with extreme overexposure. The paper in these pieces is physically burned and charred by the sun’s rays. McCaw’s process makes the sun an active participant in the artwork rather than mere inspiration. He challenges the often one-way relationship between the artist and their subject, and asks the viewer to do the same. 


Interspersed between McCaw’s images are the sculptural works of Roger Ackling. Over his extensive career, Ackling created intricately patterned wooden sculptures by burning them using a handheld magnifying glass and the sun’s rays. Ackling’s technique distills the idea of photography to its most basic function; image-making through the manipulation of light. The sculptures contain a meditative emotionality. The viewer is aware of the patient diligence that must have been required to enact such a process. Ackling’s sculptures are punctuated by rusted nails, rope, and other industrial elements. They gesture to the history of each particular object, be it driftwood, a scrap from a construction site, or a block of repurposed wood. Ackling’s sculptures explore the pensive elementality of the sun and its role in the creation of imagery and art. 


In the final space of the gallery appears a selection of new work by Alia Malley. Malley’s pieces are created by manually erasing segments of highly saturated photographs. The erased streaks appear like flashes of extraterrestrial light, giving the work an otherworldly feel. This is exacerbated by the intensity of the images themselves. Compared to the detailed, meditative works of McGaw and Ackling, Malley’s pieces are dramatic and assaulting. They introduce a more contemporary perspective into the gallery’s conversation around light, space, and the sun. 


“Touch the Sun” is a unique and thoughtful exhibition. The thematic-based curation is a refreshing departure from more traditional single-artist gallery shows. Presenting McCaw, Malley, and Ackling’s works in conversation with one another encourages viewers to draw new connections and conclusions; to push their consideration of the art further than simply an initial glance. The result is a perceptive and deeply moving experience. Our sun may be 92 million miles away, but the Marshall Gallery’s exhibition makes it feel just a little bit closer– as if, perhaps, we might reach out and touch it.