I started my search for art to love in Chelsea, April 20
(see my first post, immediately below, for some general thoughts about falling in love with artworks)
“Talk Show” at Ed Thorp Gallery: is the title a sly way of hinting that the show is all women painters? (talk show > The View > all women???) A show with many good small paintings, with the slightly funky, folksy, even fey quality that Thorp has favored over the years: representational, slightly surrealist or fantasist. There are aspects of several artists’ work that I like [category: je l’aime bien]: I was interested in Clare Grill’s paintings, particularly Close Our Eyes and Go to Bed, a small painting of a group of shoes at a door way or threshold. The painting surface style is sketchy and relaxed, rich and with small pleasures in some of Grill’s decisions about paint transparency and the trace of an under-drawing, as well as the subject: the shoes suggest a family, but they are not all pairs, which, with the shadow that flows up towards the door, creates a subtle undercurrent of disquiet.
Also I spent some time with E.T., a delicate painting of a girl’s translucent blouse disrupted by a red spot over her left breast.
This brought to my mind the first small paintings I saw by Portia Munson when she was still a graduate student at Rutgers. These represented simple yet startlingly potent aspects of a woman’s life in a style of painting that was just as good as it needed to be to get the image across: either totally plain but curious still-lifes, such a pair of cotton panties rolled up from being just taken off and left on the floor, or the body transformed with a feminist perspective, as in Munson’s Lipstick on Tits, a close-up of breasts smeared in red lipstick.
I don’t think that Grill and Munson are working exactly the same corner of gender representation. The oozing red stain on Grill’s delicately painted blouse suggests illness, mutilation, or defilement while Munson’s bold image speaks to the social necessity of duplication of gender identity: having tits is apparently not enough to inscribe a female body as a woman in society, lipstick must be applied. Also, in Munson’s work, the woman painter begins by literally painting herself. Nevertheless I think it’s important to bring these works together: many important artworks from the near past are not as well known as they should be, often because the artist was not positioned properly in relation to the center of the art world, either by circumstance, content, age, or location. These gaps in history are particularly important to address when women artists are concerned, despite the many advances of women in the artworld.
Of all the works in “Talk Show,” one painting has stayed in my mind past the Ninth Avenue barrier of Chelsea: Little Boy in Bed, a watercolor on canvas by Bettina Sellmann. It keeps drifting back into my mind as it drifts in and out of visibility even when you are right in front of it, a sweet little baby in a small ornately carved bed, all limned in a few strokes of watercolor on a scumbled grey stain on canvas. This painting seems old fashioned in a way, in terms of art style, it could be from the 1940s, never mind, it’s a haunting work [perhaps a sub-category: je l’aime bien + bonus points].