Sandra Reed works en plein air in oil on canvas. You might have seen her somewhere in town, putting up her easel and concentrating her attention on the simple, static scene before her: a house, a tree, some telephone wires in the background, a fence, clouds, grass. There are no people, no dogs, no birds or insects.
Standing in front of any one of these twelve small oils (most are 8” x10”; the largest is 15” x 7 ½”), we are asked to be drawn into the 19th century world of “This is the way it is.” And even, “This is all there really is.”
Before Cubism, we would have been satisfied with that view, comfortable in the sense of assurance it brought, its insulation against our bewilderment in the face of so many things we did not understand. These were all the homely objects of our daily surroundings and they held no terror.
But that was then. Nothing so simple will ever bring us closer to refuge again. These paintings can in fact be considered archaic, relics of the way we viewed things in another time.
John Spurlock’s twelve paintings (13” x 13” each, painted in shades of orange) are created in his studio. He explains his process carefully: oil and alkyd are painted on rice paper, which has been adhered to prepared linen.
After drying, the surface of each painting is treated with a mixture of oil and wax. Bits and pieces of words and shapes can just be glimpsed beneath. The stretcher is affixed to a wooden box, which has been made by the artist and then painted with milk paint, a traditional paint made of lime, milk protein, clays and earth pigments.
The paintings have been made and hung as pairs in some relationship, but the artist tells us they are not necessarily interdependent. Spurlock is engaged in a Modernist project here, employing a kind of Gertrude Steinian syntax hiding beneath a complex, but ancient process of application.
The bits of “text” that can be barely seen become the titles of the works themselves: Voce; Slow-Cou; Zeub – Is – ici. They emerge tantalizingly out of the depths of the paint as if being excavated from an archaeological site of ancient cities. They reach us as sounds more than words that we know, or can decipher.
We feel however that they do belong to a language, but one that is barred from us, for whatever reason. Are there other secrets here, secrets of times and places unfamiliar and maybe even threatening? Or have we just been made fools of again; shall we just wander faster along....
In these works, the world has suddenly turned against us, changing our easy perspective into a labyrinth of visual conundrums, games with no rules that we understand.
And the dialogue here, as I see it, is between these two contradictory positions, looking down from opposite ends of a long corridor: one who is engrossed in representing the contemporary city landscape in a pre-twentieth century, painterly language; while the other uses a language of abstraction and subterfuge, fearless in the face of the viewer who, even after a hundred years of Modernism, will persist on asking: “But what does it mean?”
What: Work by John Spurlock & Sandra Reed. When: Through April 25, Wed.-Fri. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; artist talk and brown bag lunch: Wed. April 16 at noon. Where: Rosewood Contemporary Art, 113 E. Oglethorpe Ave. Info: 398-1676.
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