lTwo women artists new to Seattle galleries are being introduced this month in Pioneer Square. Their show at the Linda Hodges Gallery runs until the end of the month. Here with our review is KUOW art critic, Gary Faigin.
For the contemporary artist, borrowing pictures from the past has become an enormously engaging preoccupation. Artists as diverse as Picasso and David Salle have freely copied, cut and pasted, with motivations ranging from homage to deconstruction.
Two intriguing artists who make good use of older images are currently showing on opposite walls at the Linda Hodges Gallery.
Portland artist Sherrie Wolf quotes European masterpieces in a manner that is both respectful and playful at the same time. She places fruit on glass plates on top of reproductions of old master paintings, then paints this layered arrangement in a colorful, almost photo-realist style. The resulting image serves as a sort of commentary on the original masterwork.
In a painting like “Apricot after Jacob Jordaens”, a sexual pun holds center stage. The background painting is a Dutch master version of the judgement of Paris, the beauty contest of the gods which Venus has just won. Arranged upon it is a glass plate holding a cherry, a plum, and an apricot. The overripe apricot, sitting above the lap of the nude goddess, has burst partly open to reveal a fleshy, inviting triangle. The cherry and plum hover nearby — can carnal love be far off?
Other paintings - many quoting scenes in which women figure prominently - explore further possibilities in the dialog between the old and the new, the art-historical and the domestic. And in all the images the fruit casts deep shadows onto the master painting below, teasing us with the trumping of one artist’s illusion over another’s, and questioning which picture, if either, is thus the more real.
While Sherrie Wolf’s paintings pay homage to the past, the wan drawings of Deborah Barrett seem almost haunted by it.
A self-taught artist who began as a writer, the Berkeley-based Barrett uses early portrait photographs as her point of departure. Her pieced-together, mixed-media drawings are contemporary portraits with a distinctly bizarre mood.
In “Black Man in Ochre Cape and Dog,” we notice first a careful, Washington-on-the-dollar-bill drawing of the dour face of an African-American. Attached to this hint of a vintage photo, there is the childish outline of the man’s blank, nude figure, completely bare of detail save for a gold cape. On the same sheet is the head of a dog, beautifully drawn on a pasted scrap of paper stamped with a number, like a museum specimen.
These are intriguing pieces, but extremely hard to pin down. With glued-on elements like funny hats and old postcards, there’s more than a bit of the comic gothic, as in the work of Edward Gorey. But there is nothing comic about the artist’s acid depiction of human sexuality, where men have no sexual organs at all and women have only tiny, misshapen ones. Perhaps these drawings are a meditation on the distortions of time and memory, where what remains vivid beyond those faces in family albums is as fragmentary, unreliable, and distorted as scraps of a dream one recollects upon awakening.
Both Deborah Barrett and Sherrie Wolf are highly accomplished artists. There were times in both shows, however, that I felt a disconnect between technique and content. In the case of the drawings, there were pictures where the cutouts and paste-ins seemed more arbitrary then inevitable, a bit too much of a good thing. In the paintings, there were a few moments where the images veered from the evocative to the simply decorative, the old masters reduced to pretty wallpaper, the fruit a bit flat.
But in the business of finding unexpected connections, one of the chief preoccupations of art, both artists are mining rich lodes, and the nuggets of their current explorations are well worth the visit to Pioneer Square.