by Daniel J Glendening
For whatever reason, this review proved to be the most difficult to write, so far. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I think it has something to do with some slight sense of, I don’t know exactly, journalistic integrity or something. The exhibition is great, the space is beautiful. I have this sense that the exhibition is also “Important,” which may be due to its visual weight and presence, or it may be due to marketing. I saw the exhibition two weeks ago, now. I started and stopped restarted my review three or four times. I had something relatively complete written a week ago, but have been waiting for a week for a response to my request for images. I haven’t yet received any, so I’m posting from my reference images. Anyway, thanks for indulging this commentary, moving on.
Interior Margins at the Lumber Room is an exhibition curated by Stephanie Snyder in collaboration with Sarah Miller Meigs. The exhibition features eleven artists connected, by virtue of calling it home or having called it home, to the Pacific Northwest. The exhibition is good, in the sense that it is strong, and powerful, and enigmatic, and difficult to really get a finger on. It positions itself, through the curatorial statement, as an effort to articulate some portion of what it is to be an artist working in the Pacific Northwest and, more specifically, what it means to be an artist and woman engaged with painting and abstraction in the Pacific Northwest. In her curatorial statement, Snyder seems to position this field of abstraction in a space of interiority, in a rising to the surface and an unveiling of the “interior visions” that constitute the body.
I’m not sure.
I’m not sure if I buy all that, but I am convinced by the work, which, through its relationships, balances angular geometries with malleable organic form, and cloth with concrete, but which lingers in the shadows, in the whispers.
There’s something about it that feels like twilight, like that period of time in the evening between day and night, between light and dark. That period of time, in the winter months in the Pacific Northwest, feels protracted and lingering. As I write this, it’s 3:54 PM, and looking out the window the sunlight is turning golden-red, it’s coming through the atmosphere at a steep angle and soon the sun will dip behind the hills West of Portland, and the city will be cast in a lingering blue shadow. The light will dim and grey, things become fuzzy and lose their edges; distances between objects become flexible, bodies become permeable; spirits seem to walk at twilight. When darkness comes, it is real and deep. That period between is a zone of transition, a liminal space of interstitiality and loss of definition. It is a grey area.
Where I’m running into a block, however, is that the work feels too quiet. Michelle Ross’ A Shallow Metronome, orange oil paint over digital prints draped with pink organza and polyester plaid; the grave reticence of Blair Saxon-Hill’s What that Entails, and What Comes After, a white painted wood would-be plinth, standing and leaning against the wall draped in concrete soaked burlap and latex; Heather Watkins’ Surfacing, a series of black ink on black paper pieces, arranged in a grid spanning three walls, the drizzled line of ink recalling its process of making as well as cell structures under a microscope; Kristen Kennedy’s N.T.N.L.M.R.R.D.R.P. and E.G.S.O.E.Y.S., large ink and gesso on linen pieces nailed to the wall at two corners, like ancient draperies recently unearthed, shadowy human forms emerging from the murk; Linda Hutchins’ and Victoria Haven’s geometries and arcs; the clumpy and sometimes fungal paintings of Nell Warren; Lynne Woods Turner’s delicate and studied geometry-inspired paintings and Judy Cooke’s slick abstractions. Leonie Guyer’s Constellation (no. 1-7)is permanently installed in the space, oil, colored pencil and graphite demarking the walls with delicate talismanic silhouettes.
Midori Hirose, with CI and CII, clear acrylic tubes filled with brightly colored swirls of sand installed in a corner of the stairwell, is, in its gesture of intersection with the architecture, double-penetration of wall and adjoining wall, deliberate, controlled, and marked by subtlety.
There is something, here, though, simmering beneath the surface. Hidden forms like shadows waiting to step out of the mirror, restraint, the ghosting of death shrouds and concrete entombments. Kennedy’s cryptically, encoded N.T.N.L.M.R.R.D.R.P. and E.G.S.O.E.Y.S. feature ghostly bodies, forms stepping from the ether, the latter featuring two impasto circles of paint, black and silver, solid mass defiantly clinging to the loose fabric, recalling breasts, or flash-caught eyes peering out from the shadow.
And, ultimately, maybe what it is or isn’t is of little consequence. One rarely stops to ask the ghost what it means to haunt the shadows, it simply is, and its is-ness is enough to alter the world.
I feel like this piece of writing cuts off somewhat prematurely. Ultimately, it leaves me wanting something more, something fuller. Ultimately, despite the fact that I think Interior Margins is a wonderful, and maybe even “Important” exhibition, it too leaves me wanting something more. I want something to step out of the twilight, to step out of the shadows. I want something that stops whispering in hushed tones but that yells, that leaps, that maybe enacts some measure of anger or violence or ebullient joy. I want something that screams and that acts as the final couplet of the Shakespearean sonnet, transforming the entirety and throwing all that comes before into harsh contrast. I want some noise.
One final thought: Lynne Woods Turner’s Untitled #9090, a small 14″x11″ oil on linen over panel painting in the Rear Gallery, in beautiful, and might, to my mind, make the case for contemporary abstraction all on its own.