The technique seems crude — no practiced trompe l’ oeil here, no grueling years spent in European art school copying the Old Masters. Instead we get brushy, broad strokes. Nevertheless, there is strangely affecting, blunt quality to the work.
The first painting has two shelves: a display case. As if the artist is making an inside joke: the painting being a display case holding a display case. On the top shelf (a shelf rendered three-dimensionally) we see a white cube filled with a brownish hazy cloud, a watermelon zigzag figure, an intricate yellow cross-section of a lemon-like fruit with turquoise seeds, and finally, a swirl of blackish paint with vibrant red-orange-green glowing from it, and a little red x. Below it another row of abstract objects. They do not seem to have any relation to each other (except that the colors and sizes balance out for the overall harmony of the painting).
What to make of this? Certainly nothing deeply intellectual. Is it pranking collectors? Abstract expressionism? It appears to be following an intuitive urge for color and shape, for containment, for control, for making nice. It does seem nice — and I don’t mean that word in the usual damning way. The shapes seem friendly, even the swirl of darkness is inviting, As if despair could be made palatable by showing it off to friends.
The second painting is an abstracted forest of sorts — with web-like pattens, three-dimensional, superimposed onto it, tucked between trees and under branches. There are glowing colors, sunspots, geometries that belong to Euclidian mathematics and not to nature. And there is a bulbous, wrapped candy, woven as if knitted, alternating light and darker blue, at the ground-level, protruding up like a plant. Again the sense of friendliness. Hello! It says to me. Ignore the dripping dark savage form immediately above me. You are safe here. Birch trees are angular and silent but they too will protect you.
The last painting in this series of three — why not one, Miriam? why three this time? — shows a misty river scene. Again it is painted bluntly, but it is clearly representational — and easy to interpret.
The funny thing, the artistic part, is that at various places by this river, in the foreground in a pile, hanging from a tree on the other bank, are colored blobs, packages, objects. Around them are electric, noodly lines.
Is this an art installation of the mind, or a representation of one that actually happened? Why should the artist make these colorful amendments to nature? Why does he or she insist on making colors and shapes relentlessly happy and non-natural? What would wolves, bobcats, river rats, make of these colors and shapes? Do they do anything at all except say, Hello? Anything at all except say, I was here?
If you were lost and alone would your heart leap to see these colors and shapes in nature? Or would they sadden us?
Why must human beings deliberately, aggressively, unrelentingly, try to alter our natural environment? Other animals do too, I suppose. Wasps build nests. Beavers build damns. Dogs dig holes. But what are we doing when we make art? Performing luxury? Performing resource satiation? Flagging down other people? Looking for attention? Looking to attract company?
It is interesting to think that if these objects were floating in the “river” of this painting, they might disgust us. We might see them more readily as pollution. Is that because we could not retrieve them as easily? Because they are floating away? Is the sense of friendliness that the colors and shapes in these three paintings evoke a consequence of the artist strongly implying that we can have them for ourselves? That we can possess them and hold them through time?
I have never given much thought to Freud’s theory of art as a pattern of behavior acquired in childhood. These make me think of it, though. These painting seem to me to emerge from a child-like urge to hold something shiny up to the light. Looking at them I am the parent, beaming down, offering a smile, but staying on the phone with the cable company or the health insurance customers service representative, insisting on a world elsewhere, harder, more complicated, more full of traction and fissures and uncontainable elements.