Eleanor Aldrich, Heather Hartman, David Wolff: By Candle or by Bulb [Analysis]
"By Candle or by Bulb" at Fluorescent Gallery
“By Candle or By Bulb,” an exhibition of paintings by Eleanor Aldrich, Heather Hartman, and David Wolff, opened in May at Fluorescent Gallery. By intentionally presenting works without titles or statement, the artists release the work to the viewer for a personal reading. An intimate connection is authorized by silence, as one embarks on the investigative process of experiencing new forms. The observer is an explorer in obscurity, equipped with only the visual context of other strange forms to determine the parameters of a body of work.
The paintings, though engaging in a broad range of materiality and method, played well together, interacting to ignite color relationships and compositional similarities. Each artist engages with conceptual problems that present spectrums rather than answers, each seeking to expound upon the in-between: what is real in the territory of simulation (as with Aldrich), the citation of transience in the visual world (as with Hartman), and the realm of suggestion that abstract forms can make (as with Wolff).
Eleanor Aldrich, an MFA alumna of the University of Tennessee, experiments with form with a freewheeling and lush materiality. She employs a wide range of experimental materials and processes, most notably a mouthwatering mix of silicone and oil paint. With this concoction, she sculpts objects by imitating the making of the thing itself. This theme, as she calls it, of “approaching verisimilitude without realistic rendering” gives her work an uncanniness teetering between the forlorn and adored. She successfully imitates the object in physicality and energy, rather than pictorially. Her work urges the viewer to evaluate the standard of what its takes for something to qualify as real. We are surrounded in life by real things and imitations of things, images and actuals. Aldrich explores the standards of what sets one material object apart from another, what illuminates it and elevates it in our minds, which is a critical component to exploring the organizational hierarchy of forms in our lives.
By featuring well known, yet unassuming objects like lawn chairs, magazines, and zippers, Aldrich engages with the form as if it were a grid; well known subjects take on anonymity in the midst of abundant references, and they become empty frameworks adorned with abstract forms. This relieves the work from heavy narratives. Her works are hilariously unusable, dripping and warped, rolled up and bulbous. It endears them to the viewer as the brain accepts the object as is, creating a dynamic where the piece is an underdog, while it simultaneously is elevated above the utilitarian object. Aldrich sites spiritual roots to her interest in the transformation of materials, of the mundane made divine.
Heather Hartman, also a University of Tennessee MFA alumna, uses a formal and delicate approach to painting that causes us to recognize the solubility of experience through light and time. She seeks to depict what she calls "an ever-shifting landscape, a place where things slip in and out of focus." She captures and expounds upon the fleeting phenomena of light using intense blurring, soft prisms, and simple kelvin spectrums. Experiential and reflective, her paintings embed the viewer in fluctuation and transience by way of a paradoxically solid and unchanging object.
Moments where the fine polyester mesh lies close to the base painting reveal that some of the brightest bursts of light are triads of primary colors laid close together and unblended, in the way Divisionists and Pointillists rely on color juxtapositions to preserve maximum luminosity. The fine mesh serves to optically mix the colors beneath. The works are a blend of the remembered and real, at times referencing photographic phenomena like bokeh bubbles, while maintaining the vague dreaminess that is impossible to capture in a camera. These moments recall the refraction of the sun through eyelashes, or thirst made sacred as prismic glimmers dance in a sunlit glass of water. By seizing moments of the most beautiful and elusive phenomena of light, Hartman transforms everyday experience from the mundane into the soulful, creating evidence that the experiential universe is, at the edge of perception, divine.
David Wolff, a Knoxville based artist and Director of Fluorescent Gallery, carves into liquid paint with a squeegee, creating sharp lines that undulate across the substrate and suggest written language and specific form. The resulting marks border on the tangible and identifiable, causing Wolff's paintings to tug at the viewer's relationship to unknown suggested images. This creates a surreal, unconscious landscape that looms and shifts in the viewer's mind. Wolf is interested in the phenomena of curvature in lines, and is specifically influenced by the practice of cartoonig, in how an illustrator can use the most minimal strokes to convey maximum emotion and activity with all superfluous data pared away.
With literally reductive mark making, Wolff creates anti-brush strokes, where all remaining paint seems accidental and excess, and the mark itself is an absence. With this action, the "tyranny of the brush stroke" is subverted from its place of priority in the practice of conveying form. This mechanism for destabilizing the hierarchy in paintings is reinforced by the compositions in many of his works, which are evenly woven and well balanced so that no form has complete priority. With this equilibrium, a seething and dreamlike tangle of curves verge on the edge of indication to make the unconscious bubble like a broth. In some works, Wolff juxtaposes multiple methods for desublimating the brush stroke and removing hierarchy within the visual field, including marks made as if by cleaning a paintbrush with a rag.
In "By Candle or by Bulb," sculptural and dimensional paintings traffick in materiality and movement to address gradient approaches to concepts of reality and the hierarchy of forms. An arguable title piece for the show, a candle-shaped night light flickering next to an actual flame, creates an analogy for the poetry of simulation and illumination, the visual embodiment of the capacity for the work of an artist to shed light on our psychological relationship to form and our basic understanding of reality. By destabilizing of the primacy of intention, we are left questioning what is privileged as real. We move through the mundane in uncertainty as peripheral moments of the sacred and barely definable flit in and out of being.