Erica Svec Same Enemy Rainbowby Craig Olson
Larissa Goldston Gallery, May 13 – June 21, 2008
The six paintings in Same Enemy Rainbow resound across the shell-shocked no man’s land sprawling between dream and reality, metaphor and material—where black naturals and white sharps attack with a yard dog ferocity amplified through a Vox Continental, and the witness is left rubbing her waterlogged ears wondering if what just happened was actual or not.
Svec picks up the frequency static of Surrealism, early American painting, and the personal particulars of everyday life and fuses them into fresh images. Sizeable abstractions slowly congeal into recognizable forms, like hard reality to the eyes of a waking dreamer. Objects and settings become as animate as talismans, units of equal sentient weight in the chaos of arousal. When one attempts, as Svec has done, to translate these confusions into palpable images, we’re best to pay attention.
In the large diptych “Earthbound” (2008), two nearly symmetrical images share a frontal material presence found only in painting. In the center of each, a bobbling, fleshy breast-like orb with a diamond shape at its core stares directly outward, like the blind white eye of the moon scanning an empty highway. Transparent puffs of clouds hover slightly above each of these forms, holding tri-colored word balloons that seem to fracture imagination and fantasy. In Svec’s imagery, the former’s open metaphoric systems are allowed to unfold endlessly, liberating the mind from its ordinary fetters, while the latter’s closed projection of symbols and learned psychology meld and overlap like the psychedelic drips of paint raining down on the green bottle forms found near the base of each canvas. Both are battered down with such a glorious lack of finesse that it’s impossible to object—anybody familiar with the double portraits of Orlando Hand Bears (1811-1851) or the work of Jim Nutt (b. 1938) will come in with at least a vague idea of what to expect, but that’s about it. It’s a thin line defined by the perception of a consciousness previously unknown.
“Watson and the Shark” (2008) is an imposing canvas. The largest in the show, at 76 × 109 inches, the pictorial space is packed with all manner of material hallucinations. The central conflict plays itself out like a strange ritual of embracing and mutating forms. Loose, translucent white lines packed in a jumble—with a small rainbow arc, like an open mouth, at their center—spill downward, pyramid-like, into a large white mass that takes the freely articulated form of a fish. Once our eyes and mind adjust to this bedlam of pigment, we can discern the white masses as different entities. Whoever is the aggressor or the prey in this bleached situation is unclear. The rainbow-mouthed figure clutches the big fish with five beastly hands, complete with painted claws and fishnet gloves. Perhaps this is the eponymous Watson who, in contrast to the helpless figure in John Singleton Copley’s 1778 painting of the same name, is rescuing the beast from the surrounding pandemonium. Eyes, rainbows, tires, blobs and splatters of paint, alternating black and white lines, barely recognizable forms, and purely painterly asides tumble within a fractured and enfolding space that cascades around the two lumbering entities before completely giving way to the gray vortex at the painting’s upper right corner—the one area of relief in this kaleidoscopic onslaught of mixed messages. A bizarre picture of hopeless struggle, or protection, that is nonetheless formally impressive in its scope and facture yet painfully amusing in its figures’ unwieldy bewilderment.
In her attempts to muscle through these difficult painterly territories, Svec has opened a fresh and personal space for her own practice as a painter. She seems deftly capable of channeling confusion and personal impetus while casting some sort of pictorial logic over it all. Her paintings exist within the parameters of a formal environment whose boundaries are fluid at best. It’s here that thoughts offer no promise of continuity but only a cascading determinate—the sum of the moments of a dream. It’s an ancient and ridiculous place where rainbows can offend and the voice of Pythagoras reminds us that the roots of form are found in the body and its breadth.