Jamie Earnest: Good Mourning
On Viewhere gallery
October 8 – November 5, 2022
Jamie Earnest’s seven medium-sized paintings each frame a window, an opening outward or a ladder leading upwards, linking her imagined space to an outside world. In Honor the Darkness/Trust the Light/Grow through the Mud (2022) we look through a roughly cut oval (a hole smashed in a window?) into a sunset landscape. In The Great Leveler and Between Omens (both 2022) we look up steep staircases, as if from the perspective of a small child in a tenement. And in Cowardice Masquerading as Reason (silence) (2022), the best painting in the show, the two spaces, interior and external are linked by the yellowish line which winds its way outside into the center of the dark blue sky. Here I love Earnest’s use of a curtain to cover the upper right hand edge of that sky. And in several paintings, Ethic of Neighborliness (2022) is one, the shadow of a hand or gloved hands enter the framed central space. With their consistently intense warm colors, her depicted worlds glow.
The picture as window on the world, a conception dating to Alberti (1435), was a rich theme for the nineteenth-century German Romantics and in the early twentieth century for Henri Matisse. It’s fascinating to see a young painter adopting this traditional motif to serve her own purposes. Earnest’s art—so the gallery announcement says (and the visual evidence is consistent with this claim)—is about being a southerner come north. That, I think, is why her paintings are all about spatial and emotional transitions. Her works mostly are containers, holding intensely colored content. Her titles are sometimes too elaborate, as if she, like most young artists, was trying to pack too many meanings into her images as, indeed, sometimes she depicts too many things in the framed central space. In Verstellung/Tombstone (2021), for example, I don’t know what to make of the green gloves, which are beautifully painted. I say that because I’m primarily interested in the intensely suggestive formal structure, the sensation of looking out or looking upwards that runs through these paintings. Indeed the window in Cowardice shows us another world, as if in a dream, reminding me of the miraculous scene in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan when Peter teaches the children to fly out of the window and away with him. No wonder I find this painting a show stopper! The symbolic contents of her pictures sometimes don’t seem as convincing because they don’t add up in the way, for example, the Giorgio de Chirico’s do, but that’s my bias. The problem is not that she’s a story-teller, but that it’s hard to relate her visual stories to the evocative account of death and transformation presented in her gallery announcement. This, I think, is why the fully achieved unity in Cowardice is so impressive.
For as long as I’ve been an art critic, since 1980, I’ve wanted that there be a serious commercial site in the marvelous city where I live, Pittsburgh. If I could wish one change onto the American art world, it would be that the gallery system become truly decentralized. Good museums are everywhere, but in most cities serious commercial galleries are scarce on the ground. There are many interesting artists everywhere, but what’s lacking too often is a local market system to support them. And that’s a shame because the pleasures of gallery going deserve to be democratically accessible. The here gallery, a small space located in the Mexican War Streets, a gentrifying neighborhood just north of the downtown, is note perfect. It’s within walking distance of the Warhol Museum and the important installations at the Mattress Factory, which is a major Pittsburgh Kunsthalle. With natural lighting from windows on two sides of its corner ground floor setting, it is the right place for Earnest, an ambitious painter whose art looks just great here.