The Nancy Margolis Gallery opened a solo show of recent work by painter Melodie Provenzano last week where the celebratory mood was palpable amidst gallery goers. Unlike almost every painter I know, Provenzano paints straight through each work until completion, setting up still-life arrangements of various objects and artifacts collected over the years. The still-lifes are consistently arranged against a white wall in the artist’s studio upon which Provenzano captures convincing representations. Entering the gallery one typically first encounters two paintings of glassware and figurines wherein the artist brings out glints of light and multiple shadows. These paintings display Provenzano’s use of space, which typically favors roominess over economy. Like a Japanese garden, the open areas, the unfussy parts, contribute their say to the positive elements in these canvases, if not quite in equal measure. While the colors and textures of these two paintings seem true, something disallows them to press beyond the objects’ decidedly kitschy quality; somehow the very directness of the work isn’t confrontational enough to be striking and isn’t sublime enough to be, well, sublime.
Provenzano’s best work (which out numbers that of the less distinguished) contains a not-too-convinced, mildly ethereal edge and a very pragmatic desire for transcendence amid celestial space. As though the artist has heard speak of unconditioned love or transcendental power, but still wants to keep a foot in the knowing reality of an incredulous New Yorker. This reluctance is very of the moment and present in a painting of a very centered, glass soccer ball as well as a very centered cellophane bow. In these pictures the artist’s humor is there in sparing addition as is a faint sense of the romantic encapsulated in a singular statement that neither presumes too much nor overly announces itself. Bows are especially represented in a few of Provenzano’s canvasses and provide a suitable motif for the artist’s exacting brush and nearly flawless sense of color that’s so exacting Jeff Koons might feel a teensy bit envious.
Occupying an entire wall are many smallish sized works arranged in what feels like it wants to be a meaningful conceptual approach to display, but these rely less on the painter’s facility and more on a notion of symbology.
The work I spent the most time with, however, contains all the elements that Provenzano employs to varying degrees in this show: there’s the economy of space, a hint of actual stars in space, some symbolic element at play and an interest in not getting too cheesy. Horns curl out from the top center of the canvas in a way that, given the unassuming quality of many of the paintings’ objects, seems downright menacing by comparison. Various colors of cone party hats are displayed equidistant from one another and in the middle a cherubic boy in a red devil onesie peacefully plays a violin. The painting brings together all the elements that Provenzano employs to varying degrees throughout the show. There’s the Zen-like spacing of the depicted objects, the color and facility, the winking humor with a reservation of hope for something greater, there’s a little symbology and there’s party hats too! At their best the paintings conveys a deeper reservoir of thought and feeling than much of the work is readily being willing to admit.
MELODIE PROVENZANO: STEALTH PEACE
May 14 – June 27, 2015
Nancy Margolis Gallery
523 W 25th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenue)
New York, New York 10001
Article by Zach Eichelberger
Photos by Jena Cumbo