Elizabeth Schwaiger: From the Dark Sea
On ViewJane Lombard Gallery
From the Dark Sea
January 8 – February 13, 2021
Elizabeth Schwaiger sets in motion a cacophony of styles, ideas, colors, and movements in this dense show spread out over two floors. The Texas-born, Brooklyn-based artist who unites architecture and still-life painting, portraiture and nature, draws viewers into her vision of the world, her mind, history, art history, and her studio, in stunning canvases as well as small sculptures and a video showing gentle movement among tree branches. This last offers a welcome, unthreatening respite from the surrounding atmosphere of angst.
A spirit of unease pervades the paintings defined by sharply angled geometric interjections that cut into our visual pathways, leading us through vertiginous panoramas and stolid interiors. They shape our mental and visual perceptions in manners reminiscent of the architecture of Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid and of artists like Al Held and Vasily Kandinsky. We are forced to examine and reexamine the depths of our experiences and environments from every angle and to continually reconstruct them. At the same time, Schwaiger’s interiors are often landscapes at play with traditional still-life gatherings of small objects, artworks, and personal memorabilia on tables and walls. Little sculptures atop tables and shelves call to mind Sigmund Freud’s study and the inevitable psychological drama at play in these paintings. Why Yet the Collection (2020) is a jam-packed, orderly watercolor, ink, and acrylic on canvas work that measures a mere 22 by 28 inches, while Quite the Reaction (2020), also 22 by 28 inches, shows a museum-like gallery full of more formally posed items, and a smaller array of objects in Quite the Collection (2020) sits in a kitchen possibly underwater.
The works, laid out on two floors, symbolically it seems, are all testaments to memory and the threat of losing it among the challenging momentum of time and natural disasters. The painting In the Depths (2019) reveals a cascade of dishes and tableware from the sunken Titanic tumbling toward us through dark waters in a state of permanent motion and suspension, while the large 78 by 78 inch painting Doublethink (2020), situates us in a parlor or bedroom with a triangular kite-like form cutting into the room.
Many of the scenes are at once seductive and aggressive, the colors call to mind the intimate interiors of Vuillard, as in the densely packed Proliferating (2020) with its framed paintings stacked against chests, orange and yellow boudoir-printed walls and fabrics, and a mottled-green table in the foreground; and the frightful but tightly composed Fiery Room (2018), with patches of obliterating gray on the furnishings amid the oranges and reds.
One of the most dramatic paintings in the show—the aptly titled Palimpsest (2020)—which refers to two 20th-century peace accords, addresses climate, conflict, and of course politics, stands at the intersection of fiction, fantasy, and psychological reality. Depicted here is a conference in a stunning orange palatial hall filled with large murals (some showing copies of Schwaiger’s own paintings on the ceilings and in arched alcoves), with rows of blurry male participants sitting on chairs, perhaps helplessly, amid a wavy pool of water.
Schwaiger domesticates the outdoors by giving it still-life status, thereby gaining control over it. The recurrent images of flooding may derive from her residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation at Captiva Island in Florida, a region continually beset by uncontrollable watery catastrophe. Her political passion, however, expresses itself best in wild gestural paintings encapsulating the swirl and ravages of time as well as the history of art.