Allison Katz: Ruthless in Chalk Farm at Battat Contemporary
April 30 – June 13
7245 Rue Alexandra,
Montreal 514 750 9566
Ruthless in Chalk Farm, Allison Katz’s solo exhibition at Battat Contemporary, is a collection of handmade pieces – a yellow wooden snake, a wheat-sheaf-laden funeral cloth, a still-life executed in sand – and several exceptional paintings. With a strength of execution that overpowers any complaint of arbitrariness, Katz conjures forms and images that are at once beautiful and funny, familiar and strange. In the context of this show they possess a sadness as well, as it is quietly communicated that the Ruth in the show’s title is the artist’s late grandmother. Although this exhibition consists of a wide range of works done over the past two years it is purely, and unapologetically, commemorative in spirit.
Katz’s paintings often puzzle before they reward. With daunting diversity her works range from still-lifes to abstractions to ambitious tableaux that take their compositional cue from collage.Cactus is a simple potted plant, beefed-up with impasto brushwork; Chalk Farm poetically depicts, in what might be called a folk-cubist manner, a sprite-like character awash in his pastel-block surroundings. This variety would be an obstacle to consistency, were it not that all of the works display a uniform clarity, conviction, and uncanny presence often disproportionate to their scale.
Egypt’s Grapes, one of Katz’s strongest paintings, consists of an outlined female form poised on the edge of a crimson canvas, one leg playfully, longingly, extended towards a doubly-rendered moon. Oddly reminiscent of both Pompeii and Picasso, this compelling drama of figure and ground formally plays out the actions of a heroine literally embodying the substance of her surroundings, defining the center of her own specific universe.
Painting, for this artist, is not a rarefied act of translation, but a continuous process of engagement with the material world. This workmanlike approach, which has little use for hierarchy, allows her, without fuss or pretense, to introduce three-dimensional elements into the gallery space. A replica of Yves-St-Laurent’s funeral cloth, for example, golden and strewn with green wheat-sheaves, gently allows melancholy associations to infuse the plant imagery that crops up in a number of other works in the show.
With the logic of a synaesthete, for whom numbers, names and concepts can be equated with distinct sensations of color or sound, Katz displays a fascination with the impact of charged pairings of painterly parts. The curious dark fruits – think Roman Mosaic or late Derain – that figure in several graphic still-life works are a simple combination of “black” and “pears”, yet operate as dense, if indirect, symbols of sensual vitality, loss and death. It is oddly helpful when viewing Katz’s work simply to name and list the visible configurations that occur: plant/ pattern; pears made in paint /pears made in sand; black fruit/ black silhouette; head in profile/ swimming swans; yellow snake/ yellow stripe, and so on. It is an impressive culmination of motifs, bringing to light in a pictorial stream-of-consciousness connections and sensations that would otherwise be lost. In Katz’s profusion of images it is the black border, the dark fruit, the shadowed field and the space of the tomb that sustain a quiet note of mourning throughout. Katz never seems to forget that hers is a medium inextricably linked to conjuring that which no longer is, and in Ruthless in Chalk Farm she has established a vital and inspiring memorial.