Psychologically complex, with gothic sensibility, Gaetanne Lavoie’s oil paintings at Stricoff Fine Art in Chelsea invite us to follow her down the rabbit hole to a land of symbolically potent dreamscapes. It is a world where lotus flowers float encapsulated by a silvery, soapy membrane of air and water in The Lotus Eater and bunnies breed, well, like rabbits, in Creating Wonderland. The carnivalesque atmosphere complete with top hat and clown make-up is both playful and subtly macabre.
With the celebration of Alice and Wonderland’s 150th Anniversary this year, Lavoie joins the ranks of at least 46 performers, artists, and musicians, world wide, drawing from and celebrating the rich symbolism available in this classic. Such is its inspiration that it has been frequently sampled by pop surrealists such as Mark Ryden and Nicoletta Ceccoli with whom Lavoie’s paintings seem to share a certain sense of frivolous playfulness.
One can almost taste the sugary buttercream frosting of home-baked goods when confronted with the glossy, smooth texture of Lavoie’s paint application, contrasted with areas of thin paint in shadows and large areas of grainy, conglomerate texture as layers are painted over layers. Lavoie’s palette is reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud’s 1960’s cake paintings, utilizing pastel pinks, blues, pistachio greens and lemony yellows. All is not sweetness and light however, as Lavoie’s life size figures vibrate with silent pathos as in her self-portrait Mouth Sewn Shut. The quiet rebellion of Teddy and Uzzi in which a young girl ensconced in her bedclothes, accompanied by her sexualized childhood icon, grips a submachine gun in the place of her security blanket, would give any nightmare menace, real and imagined, cause to hesitate.
The absence of the figure in Carol O’malia’s landscape of pillows in Back to Square One brings a quieter mood to this intimate terrain. O’malia was inspired to paint pillowscapes as a metaphorical partner for the snowscapes in her exhibition Outside, In (2008) at the Julie Nester Gallery. Vision adjustments following eye surgery created a desire to portray her subjects more as a globally sensate experience rather than focusing on identifiable details of specificity.
It is the sense of the elemental through experience and recorded memory that shapes the context of O’malia’s paintings, of which the primary subject appears to be light in all its forms. The refraction of sunlight filtered through water creates patterns and a rhythm of movement reflected both on the glowing teal of the pool walls and the skin of her realistically rendered swimmers. Angling takes this relationship to its furthest limits, distorting the figure through the magnified lens of liquid, to the point of abstraction and dissolution leaving one perfect foot above the water.
Anonymity is guaranteed in Every Once in a While allowing a view that encompasses all but the face of the subject. Again, there is a feeling of solitude and muffled silence since, as the viewer we are placed by association underwater. There is a suspenseful allusion to the dangers of the solitary swimmer from this voyeuristic viewpoint akin to Hitchcock’s camera tricks. The implication of decapitation in which a young boy’s head is above the water line with the clever title, Wet Behind the Ears proves that O’malia is no stranger to the double entendre.
On the surface, Lavoie and O’malia haven’t much in common other than extremely competent figuration skills, Lavoie being more attached to the signifier and O’malia to the elusive quality of light. Ultimately it’s a question of nature versus nurture, is a painting what we see or what it invokes us to see. What is real, the inner or the outer landscape? Stricoff Gallery gives us the opportunity through the presentation of the works of these two artists to examine the reality of both.
Carol O’Malia and Gaetanne Lavoie
Stricoff Fine Art
November 5 through November 17
564 W. 25th Street, New York, NY 10001
Writing by Kim Power
Photographs courtesy of Stricoff Fine Art