Face Value

    Thursday, October 28, 1999 to Saturday, December 4, 1999

    Face Value investigates how three artists, adopting neither a utopic nor antagonistic attitude toward painting, uphold an unapologetic and integral relationship with its historical tradition, including a recognition and exploitation of its intrinsic potency. This approach should not be confused with pure formalism or historicism; rather, not only does it reveal an indifference to the stigma that painting may still hold, but it enables each artist to deliberately exploit painting’s seductive powers, with varying consequences for the viewer. The artists’ engagement means with the materiality and the history of painting, reinforced by their reliance on construction as a means of articulation, is largely responsible for a shared quality in the paintings included in the exhibition. Remarkably strong and compelling, these works dare us to consider them at face value. The subject’s of Eliza Griffith’s oil paintings young women, usually accompanied by other young women or men inhabit domestic spaces. While there is no mistaking these figures as anything but our contemporaries, (hairdos, makeup, shoes, and attitude dispel any doubt) their instant familiarity is unsettling. Griffiths makes no qualms about assimilating Art History’s lessons, fully cognizant of its latent ability to make these fictional characters her own. Verisimilitude, paradoxically, plays a crucial role in the fictional worlds that Griffith makes visible. Griffiths chooses the colour of eye shadow, hair, lipstick as painstakingly as the painting’s protagonist would herself. This analogy enables or forces the viewer to become entangled in the unfolding drama. A knowing glance of the protagonist betrays a claustrophobic relationship, where, as in the age of Diderot, the viewer is privy to details unbeknown to the supporting actor, thus further obscuring the distinction between fact and fiction. The role of the gaze is thus complicated: Griffiths has not simply reverse the object of the gaze, but relies on tried and true painting devices to shift responsibility. Carmen Rushiensky’s large scale, luminous oil paintings consist of the accumulation of motifs words and rudimentary symbols. In Send Me, for example, the horizontal painting is comprised of hundreds of arrows and variations of directional symbols. There is an intensification of forms in the central area of the painting where the outlined yellow forms dominate, interspersed with blue until as the title of the sires of works describes, a “floating heap” is formed. Rushiensky’s paintings simultaneously implode and explode, without betraying any contradiction. Nevertheless, contradictions are among the raw material from which Rushiensky draws. Elementary, precise symbols are transformed by fluid, lush brushstrokes, erasing any trace of their impassive origin, yet continuing to suggest the stimuli of everyday urban life. The concrete, objective meaning of the symbols (concurrently represented and presented) is obscured by the addictive, flowing rhythm built up by the methodical layering of paint. The singular motif becomes more intense, as the slow process of repetition seduces the viewer by its ability to mesmerize and engage. Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism collide seamlessly, leaving neither intact. In What this embarrassingly ambitious question is posed without pretension, as both the interrogator and the respondent occupy equivocal positions. Assembled, Daniel Sharp’s abstract paintings produced over the past three years disclose family resemblances. Similar features appear: grids, stripes and monochromes, additionally linked by uniform shapes and sizes of the canvases. Sharp’s temporary compositions of paintings ensure that the underlying discipline of each work constituting the family resemblances – yield to the newly established formal associations between colours, textures, and compositions. These relationships, integral to each individual painting, are brought to the fore in the dynamic groupings, multiplying the points of access into Sharp’s work. While Sharp embraces tenets of high modernism, he is nevertheless unhesitant in purposing his abstract paintings as an intimate genre. There is a generosity about Sharp’s temporary compositions: although certainly not tentative, Sharp creates a space for the viewer to ponder relationships and indulge in the pleasure of viewing.
    Anne Grace, curator