The Impenetrable in Art

by Steve Rockwell

Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)

At the artist talk for his “You see it” exhibition at the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto, Pat McDermott emphasized the direct experience of his work as a key to unlocking its import. The artist avoided references to contemporary art criticism, but elaborated on the Lascaux cave art as his primer. Although interpretations of pre-historic cave art will likely be subject to our own prejudices, there is a belief that ritualistic trance-dancing may have been part of this early art, shamanistic rituals inducing visions. Cambridge professor of classical art and archeology, Nigel Spivey, points out that the dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals resemble the hallucinations induced by sensory-deprivation. Regardless, we can infer that the Lascaux artist communicated to the cave community directly and powerfully, to the extent that their lives somehow depended on the reception of its message.

Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing

McDermott’s approach to his art carries this sense of the essential, a life-long journey to the “core” of our being, which he maintains is “untouchable” and “unreachable.” This drive for answers to primal meaning in art brought to mind the work of Kazuo Nakamura, particularly to an exhibition from nearly two decades ago at the Cutts Gallery. In a review of the artist’s work, writer Gary Michael Dault characterized the almost monastic fervour of Nakamura’s painterly researches as being the result of a steadfast conviction that “There’s a sort of fundamental pattern in all art and nature… in a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is a world we are experiencing together.” Nakamura’s 1983 oil on linen “Number Structure and Fractals” can be viewed as the graphic depiction of the life of numbers, each organism containing the seed of its own being. By 1980, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot had produced high quality visualizations of sets of complex numbers while working at an IBM research center, fulfilling Nakamura’s 1956 vision of artists and scientists working in tandem.

Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm
Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm

Perhaps this drive to the core of our being has no better illustration than the Renaissance itself, set in motion by Filippo Brunelleschi’s engineering miracle, the Florence Cathedral, his invention of perspective being a product. Inspired by Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” drawing blended mathematics and art, demonstrating the harmony of human proportion, centering the point of perspective, here, at the naval. Clearly more than a presentation of male anatomy was intended. Leonardo believed that the workings of the body was an analogy for the workings of the entire universe – a cosmografia del minor mondo. To the Renaissance polymath, this knitting together of the lines of sight was a miracle: ”Here forms, here colors, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is a marvellous thing.” For a shining moment, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and science found its expression through art, producing some of the greatest creative minds of all time.

Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”
Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”

Present at McDermott’s talk was interdisciplinary artist Giuseppe Morano, to whom I owe a bit of gratitude for linking and contrasting Nakamura’s art with McDermott’s. I had become acquainted with Morano’s art at the Artist Project a few years ago, his work being singularly based in numbers and mathematics, primarily a digital printing of black numbers on white primed canvas. At the exhibition Morano’s homage to Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows” the artist precisely mimicked the wing position with each crow in Van Gogh’s painting with the hands of a clock, and printing the exact time that the wing alignments signify. As I said of the work at that time, “If Wheatfield with Crows” was indeed van Gogh’s last painting, we can picture the crows taking flight at the sound of the fatal gunshot.” Morano had converted the crows into time stamps, serving here as winged metaphors for the series of events leading up to the tragedy. His “Happy Birthday: You’re so special” work is aesthetically neutral to its implied subject, until we recognize that the 366 sets of numbers printed randomly in columns signify the birthdays of every person who has ever lived. Your joy or disappointment at his gift to you may depend on whose birthday you were fated to be near, at least as how they were dispensed in Morano’s numerical universe.

Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You're so special, 2018, 72" x 36", acrylic on canvas
Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You’re so special, 2018, 72″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas

McDermott’s “You see it” exhibition is an invitation to penetrate the “unreachable” and “untouchable.” With few exceptions, the titles of the artist’s work emphatically address “You.” A solitary work begins in the first person: “I beseech you.” Yet, how much of the objective world can be inferred from any given work of art? If 605 of the more than 900 animals depicted by the Lascaux cave artists can be precisely identified today, then their art is hardly delirious phantasmagoria – rather an accurate encyclopedic cataloguing of the biosphere upon which their lives depended. 

Presented here is a fragment of the see-saw of art history – the visual style of the moment being a sum of the artist’s thoughts, set against the nourishment of insight and aesthetic meat upon which the viewer is invited to feed. “You see it?”

Nora Griffin’s Liquid Days at Fierman West

by John Mendelsohn

Nora Griffin, Empire State (Zebra), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Empire State (Zebra), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

Nora Griffins’s paintings are scrappy, high-spirited, improvised works that feel like visual diaries of life on the run. Saturated color, woozy pattern, and images of fish, animals, and art pile up and jostle for a place in the sun. Surrounded by artist frames, which serve as shelves for a variety of objects, the four nearly six-foot square paintings and four smaller works are a kind of declaration of independence for this artist. They bring together ideas and motifs of her earlier work, but here with an expansive, imaginative panache and free-wheeling energy.

Nora Griffin, Koi, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Koi, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

In the painting Koi, zones of blues and purples are set off by free-form areas of cadmium red, creating a patchwork pool for the swimming goldfish. This painting shares with Empire State (Zebra) a kind of psychedelic intensity, with each form or space between becoming a place to record an impression of the fleeting world or a painterly sensation. A series of cascading, irregular blocks in green are echoed in a variety of smaller grids, all of which contrast with sections of yellow and aqua animated by daubed speckles. At the center of all the antic activity is a serene, multi-colored zebra. 

Nora Griffin, Liquid Days (zzz Cat), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Liquid Days (zzz Cat), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

Liquid Days (zzz Cat) is a painting dominated by a looping lattice in Grannie Smith apple green and lavender, with flashes of purplish red. On top of this field, lounges a tabby cat in tones of purple. A crenelated outline in yellow haunts like a phantom presence, along with the sculpted palm prints that hang on the gesturally painted frame. Altogether, the result is an immersion in trippy high-jinx, a feeling of crazy, ordinary freedom.

Nora Griffin, Glass Flute, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Glass Flute, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

The fourth large painting, Glass Flute, has a water-like rippling pattern in yellow and yellow-orange, overlaid by three images: two outlined ducks, an inset that looks like a quotation from one of the artist’s earlier works, and a detail from the Manet painting, The Fifer, here in grisaille. The combination of all these elements is cryptic, evoking the kind of mental conundrum that David Salle has specialized in. But here, the loosely rendered images and the funky abstract squiggles and dottings reveal the artist’s idiosyncratic touch, suggesting a receptive spirit that is open to the multifarious gifts that the world is continually offering. 

In Griffin’s paintings, large-scale visual exuberance carries in its wake signs of the artist’s personal affinities. Together they create a theater of the artist’s inner world, made accessible and public-facing. Her impromptu, reckless works convey a feeling of charged avidity for a life that she wants to share with us.

The sense of Griffin’s personal stake in these paintings is embodied in their every aspect, including the objects lodged in the frames, suggesting both private revelation and a guarding of the extraordinary act of self-exposure that painting entails. The objects surrounding the canvases, à la Jasper Johns, include painted eyeglasses, turtles, palm prints, the artist’s initials, and souvenir Statues of Liberty, which give the whole enterprise a rakish New York City vibe.

In these works, Nora Griffin melds a number of different impulses: a devil-may-care rawness, using paint as a blunt instrument of sensation, a desire to create a personal dream-logic from juxtaposed color and image, and an affirmation that painting can be a poetic art that is on the street, in the museum, and in the heart, all at once. 

Nora Griffin / Liquid Days at Fierman West, 19 Pike Street, New York, NY from June 3 to July 2, 2022.

The Artificial Beauty of Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River

by Mary Hrbacek

Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

 The newly reopened Paris Koh Fine Arts presents, “artificial. Beauty: Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River,” an exhibition of six new (2021) large scale archival pigment prints and six smaller gelatin silver prints. The large daring staged images are startling and fresh, evocative and dynamic. River’s nature-inspired vision is augmented with colored bubble wrap, repurposed to replicate the leaves of trees and to function as the scales and fins of a male merman and female mermaid.  He configures dancers from the New York City ballet, as he explores experimental artificial environments by positioning the volunteer nude models in composite relationships with the reimagined plastic substance of bubble wrap. River plays out mythological themes of transformation into human Bonsai trees; human-fish and jellyfish morph into forms with extended meaning and potential.  Bubble wrap, a signature material in River’s creative vocabulary, adds a heightened emotional charge to the imaginative scenarios that stir in some works euphoric feelings of flowing freedom to be found in the movements of ocean-going creatures. These creatures are perhaps the next step in human evolution, as the Earth’s surface becomes increasingly uninhabitable. The freely floating pieces of bubble wrap, functioning as algae or other sea organisms, evoke the weightlessness of forms that thrive in the wind or in water.  

Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The extreme realism of the figures, made possible exclusively by the camera, creates a marked shift in vision and contrast in feeling compared with the artificial material. The hybrid combination pushes the boundaries of imagination to the limits of belief by asking the viewer to consider two distinctive means of image-making that are especially provocative in the Bonsai pieces. The human elements of the Bonsai group diverge from the realm of evocative reality into a fully blown rendition of female anatomy. This effect overtakes the natural suggestiveness of the bio-forms. The bright supporting colors of the backgrounds and the tree “leaves” transport the works into a heightened non-naturalistic environment that speaks to an unconscious need for reverie and celebration by rejoicing in life’s ever changing vocabulary of experiences.  

Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The male and female underwater fish figures that glide through the depths with tail fins and tendrils swirling behind, provide a lush sense of the buoyant ephemeral character of underwater existence.  Nothing is static or rigidly fixed; every aspect of deep-sea life as seen in the photographs moves and undulates perpetually, beckoning us to escape our inflexibility and rejoice in life. The “Bubble wrap no. 21 (Jellyfish)” piece entices the viewer to realize the nature of the Id which can cause us pleasure and pain with its insistent desire and consequent burning sting. The warm enveloping range of light and dark red-orange tones in the “Bubble wrap no. 23 (Mermaid)” photograph stirs a sense of both water and fire, while the deep blue hues of the “Bubble wrap no. 25 (Merman)” expand our consciousness by presenting cool realms where a freshly created being, the Merman, dominates. “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” presents a trio of naked men grouped crouching on a mountain peak, where ominous clouds hover overhead.  The men express their ascendency by relating to each other with outstretched arms, having conquered their worldly challenges.  

Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The “Behind the scenes” series of 10” x 10” (frame 15” x 15”) gelatin silver prints gives the viewer insights into River’s creative working process by providing varying possibilities that add to the richness of the final visions, as seen in the large pieces. Here the Merman and Mermaid photographs have lights that suggest planets in the darkened “sky,” to provide a cosmic or otherworldly dimension to these new forms. The three male figures in “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” seem to be resting from a difficult struggle, contemplating their current position.  The standing figure appears to be the chief in charge (River himself) who makes the fatal decisions.

These pictures are strange and beguiling; River has created unique narratives that touch the realm of fairytales peopled with creatures who may initially alarm us, but who ultimately stir our awe, empathy, and curiosity.  He works intuitively, allowing the exploration process to spark his engagement, providing unconscious ideas and relationships that augment each other. River takes photographs before he assigns theoretical underpinnings to his endeavors.  He focuses on what is unfolding in the “now,” moment by moment. This extreme commitment infuses the hybrid works with authenticity; the imagery may initially seem contradictory as the nude body reveals all its forms in contrast with the abstracted structures of the re-purposed bubble wrap, transformed into tree leaves, clouds, fish scales and flying or floating ephemera. By creating these diverse means of expression River takes the photographic genre into a more creative arena using wire, a flashlight and bubble wrap to augment the lush beauty of the nude figures. The artist considers the series “bizarre yet fun,” but it goes further than fun, it introduces the viewer to a surprising universe of visual ideas in artificial scenes that open unexpected doors to future explorations. These ideas have acquired their own ingenious reality.

What the…? Jerry Kearns at Studio Artego

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Shade (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches
Shade (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

My first thought seeing this solo exhibition of Jerry Kearns paintings at Studio Artego is collage. The Pop artist Erró comes to mind, an Icelandic born and current resident of Spain and France who approaches his work much in the same way as Kearns, by first making a collage study. Another commonality is that both Kearns and Erró create powerful socio-political paintings based on those pieced-together preliminaries that always seem to have more than a bit of dark humor and irony in the messaging. 

Kearns’ paintings are brilliantly rendered with great precision, mostly featuring blissful clouds bathed in brilliant light. This backdrop, which in one instance is a bold and blazing sunset, can either enhance or contrast the narratives in very compelling ways. The exhibition’s title, What The…?, may refer to the artist’s constant state of concern and bewilderment regarding the way the world seems to be unraveling and regressing, especially here at home. Most of the paintings feature a comic book style subject, something in the manner of Graham Ingles (1915-91), featuring high contrast shading and theatrical gestures, modified a bit for more graphic impact. For instance, in Shade (2020), we see a determined grave digger that looks like it could have come right out of Tales From the Crypt, working feverishly as the soul of his unfortunate victim heads for the heavens. Works like this, and the silkscreen print Hard Rock (1992) take on even more urgent meaning as the strength of Roe v Wade once again, is being tested. Even the use of Mount Rushmore, representing four powerful men deciding the rights of women, really brings home the fear/submission of the woman in the foreground. I wonder if the man/boy responsible for the pregnancy were also subject to trial, fine or jail, if the powers that be would still be so committed to their cause. 

Hard Rock (1992), Jerry Kearns, silkscreen, 26 ¼ x 30 inches
Hard Rock (1992), Jerry Kearns, silkscreen, 26 ¼ x 30 inches 

Stormy Weather (2021) reveals the many techniques the artist has mastered over his extensive career. In beautifully applied and blended acrylic paints, with the occasional use of thin pencil line or graphite, Kearns shows us his focused wizardry with form, color and composition. Even the comic book style references can vary, like in Stormy Weather, as a more 1940’s Modern Love type mix is combined with a symbolic silhouette reference to the BLM protests on the left, and a slightly trippy fem fatale center/front. It is also quite clear in this instance, that some things just make sense aesthetically and compositionally for the artist, as he strategically divides the picture plane with a pair of dainty legs that split the narrative, suggesting the golden ratio. Top right, the passionate politics being played out here are observed by two beautiful and very curious birds perched on hanging ivy, perhaps representing hope and a peaceful end to this complex drama. 

Stormy Weather (2021), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 84 inches
Stormy Weather (2021), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 84 inches 

On the main wall opposite the entrance hang three works: What The…? (2022), Alpha (2020), and Diva (2022). All equally sized and similar in visual weight, they tell distinctly different tales. What The…? encapsulates how quickly an uneventful walk on a perfect afternoon can end abruptly and painfully if you don’t watch your step. Something that is happening more often these days as many of us are staring more at our phones than what is right in front of us. Alpha is the most eye-catching and strange of this trio. It features a bouncing baby in mid-flight, joyfully spreading its limbs. Covered in ‘tattoos’, the narrative transmitted from the baby quickly becomes oddly troubling. When analyzing the body illustrations, biblical or strong christian references, such as glimpses of Christ’s hands on the cross, maybe a pregnant Mary and winged angels traversing the otherwise innocent form now becomes far more weighty. Diva is the most direct of the three, showing the passage from earth bound to heavenward as the subject’s hands become transparent and thus transcendent.

Alpha (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Alpha (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Jerry Kearns is much more than a Pop artist. The way he layers his narratives and brings added intensity can be jarring, intoxicating and perplexing to the point of no return. This all happens because his paintings trigger deep emotions, enlightening us with thoughts unrestrained by time. His focus moves freely and fluidly, uninhibited in his search for truths that are not confined by any preconceived order – and as a seeker of truth, you have to think and project multidimensionally and Kearns does that beautifully and indelibly. 

Jerry Kearns “WHAT THE…?” runs through June 17. Studio Artego is located at 32-88 48th Street, Queens, New York, 11103.

In Its Daybreak, Rising

by Mary Hrbacek

Sarah Cunningham, Sea Change, 2021, oil on linen, 80 x 60.3 x 3.8 cm, 31-1/2 x 23-3/4 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica
Sarah Cunningham, Sea Change, 2021, oil on linen, 80 x 60.3 x 3.8 cm, 31-1/2 x 23-3/4 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica

Almine Rech presents “In Its Daybreak Rising,” an exhibition of eighteen new abstract oil paintings by Sarah Cunningham. The exhibition is unusually focused and pure in its means. The semi-abstract works with representational underpinnings speak for themselves; their surprising immediacy quickly engages the viewer. One is not asked to read long texts pertaining to the show, or to contend with convoluted explanations of current trends that abound from the Metropolitan Museum to galleries in every art district in New York.  Abstract painting comes in many guises; the works are often visually attractive, but ultimately fail to convey meaningful content, which would make them matter more authentically.  Beauty is never wrong if it is authentic, but without an in-depth foothold, it can tilt toward the decorative, Sarah Cunningham’s works have no link to decoration. The psychologically complex works present configurations of thick worked media that create depth, movement, and inner space.  

Sarah Cunningham, Siren, 2022, oil on canvas, 181 x 282.9 x 3.7 cm, 71-1/4 x 111 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica
Sarah Cunningham, Siren, 2022, oil on canvas, 181 x 282.9 x 3.7 cm, 71-1/4 x 111 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica

The loosely built-up, manipulated paint results in a warm relaxing vibe that sets the viewer at ease, while it draws the eye ever deeper into an exploration of the pictures’ elements. The vehicles that drive the works are the intricacies of long, medium and short strokes, thinly glazed areas penetrated with washes and scratched lines, and colors unaffectedly mingled. Beneath the independent, freely brushed strokes there is a vision of a landscape space which provides structure to some of the works in the form of organic natural elements such as flowers, waterfalls, the sky, sunlight and trees.  These primeval elements make the works disarmingly genuine.

While the paintings relate to masters of the past such as the expressionists, El Greco, Albert Pinkham Ryder and even the Impressionists, they present a contemporary universal aura.  Their individuality and originality are underscored by the almost diarist psychological narrative that unfolds progressively as the formats are built up and torn down in moves that stress potentiality and growth. The seemingly casual, surprisingly intuitive yet urgent application of the paint is refreshing. There is little reference to figure-ground in these works; nothing could be less descriptive. In the large triptych “A Wounded World Still Holds Us” (2022) one can realize a landscape dotted with trees, and a forest pathway that appears to have undressed dancers moving in a clearing.  There is a bubble embedded on the left that illustrates a possible shipwreck, with surviving figures on the beach. Most of the works seem to evoke a twilight to dusk light effect, creating a moody, but not especially melancholy ambiance.  The primary colors of slashing, overlapping strokes merge, evoking primordial seasonal intervals and rhythms. 

Sarah Cunningham, A Wounded World Still Holds Us, 2022, oil on canvas, 200 x 602 x 3.8 cm, 78-3/4 x 237 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica
Sarah Cunningham, A Wounded World Still Holds Us, 2022, oil on canvas, 200 x 602 x 3.8 cm, 78-3/4 x 237 x 1-1/2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica

Cunningham’s use of purple-pink, red, orange and yellow opens up the ochre and blue-green nature inspired surfaces to provide added inferences. Sometimes flower petals dominate a canvas loosely, sometimes the swirl of undergrowth is implied. Lakes are hinted at, but very subtly. What matters is the artist’s character expressed in her expansive inspirations. “River Mouth” (2021), an unexpected work that embodies an exploration of deep pictorial space, is apparently designed with a waterfall in mind. 

In the work entitled “Siren,” colorful butterflies and birds appear to be flying aloft, close to a cleared walkway. Viewers must suspend judgement and relax to allow the paint to tell its story; there is only inherent poetry and imagination to lead one. The piece entitled “Turbulence” (2001) appears to be inspired by an immersive forest fire approaching two trees, which may be referencing recent global forest   conflagrations. Some of the warm colored hues tinge the works with the feel of autumn or sunset, that mediates the role played by blue and green, with their intimations of nature, earth, life and renewal. Red is associated with the life force, with flames, blood, sacrifice and love, and in Japan and Korea with the sun. Yellow symbolizes life, fire and heat. The appeal of this group of paintings is their repetition of related and recreated styles and formats that put the mind at rest while engaging sensory feelings and visual insights.  

The titles are mysterious and thought provoking; they comprise personal poetry that doesn’t reveal much that relates to the artist’s intentions.  Some of the titles refer to machine culture, which is puzzling and enigmatic in the context of these apparently environmental images that unite the artist with nature’s patterns.  Cunningham seems to be playing with the viewer, keeping any obvious interpretations undercover.  “Machine Dreams,” “Dressing in Limbo,” “After-life,” “Folding Is A Kind of Fading Out,” “A Wounded World Still Holds Up,” “In Their Bilious Calling,” “Shrine,” and “Siren,” to name but a few, all present a cross between references to life, and to philosophy, in tension with natural allusions.  There is a significant metaphoric narrative in effect, though underground, non-descriptive.  

Sarah Cunningham, River Mouth, 2021, oil on linen, 130 x 100.3 x 4.8 cm, 51 1/4 x 39 1/2 x 2 in. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica
Sarah Cunningham, River Mouth, 2021, oil on linen, 130 x 100.3 x 4.8 cm, 51 1/4 x 39 1/2 x 2 inches. © Sarah Cunningham, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photograph by Dan Bradica

The blended strokes that merge together overlap potential boundaries, providing viewers an unfathomable consciousness of being inside someone’s head, flowing with the endeavors, thoughts and movements of the artist.  Cunningham’s approach to the picture plane seems to reveal pure exuberance, although there are dark sections at work as well, mitigated by thickly applied warm bright hues that in some instances suggest the dawning light of day.

I find these works to be liberating.  Cunningham doesn’t seem to care to please others; she paints for herself in her unfettered unencumbered style.  Her distinctive moves make the works flow from one to the next to create a unified story of her mind, that expresses itself in freedom of thought manipulated by painterly interpretation.  The paintings are highly sensual and visually engaging without the intercession of weighty conceptual dogmas to interrupt their authenticity. The art is alive; it is enough and it speaks for itself.