Tunnel Vision: Allison Gildersleeve at Asya Geisberg
Allison Gildersleeve: Let Me Show It To You Unfixed at Asya Geisberg Gallery
February 23 to April 7, 2012
537B West 23rd Street
New York City, (212) 675-7525
For her fourth solo exhibition since earning her MFA from Bard in 2004, the prolific Allison Gildersleeve refines her take on the painterly interpretation of the natural landscape in nine paintings dated 2011 or 2012, in oil and alkyd on canvas, that are rooted in perception but only loosely tethered to the world of appearances. Her ostensible subject matter is the verdant woodlands of her native New England, but the greens of chlorophyll do not dominate these lushly chromatic compositions, shot through as they are with vibrant magentas, shadowy violets, slithering oranges and murmuring grays. The liberties the artist takes with hue; her autographical, apparently improvisational mark making; and her boxed-in, anti-panoramic compositions imply a landscape subjugated to her pictorial will. Beyond the artist’s sheer painterly virtuosity and coloristic panache, the exhibition foregrounds questions about the contemporary relevance of the centuries-old tradition of landscape painting.
The works range in size from the three-foot-wide Thin Line to Squall, which is 68 by 72 inches. In the latter painting especially, the range of Gildersleeve’s virtuoso paint-handling is on display; its streaks, swipes, smears, spots and splats catalogue the ways that a loaded brush might contact a canvas. A turbulent surface is pitch-perfect for this picture, in which a damp wind whips a line of scraggly treetops under a churning sky.
Insofar as pictorial space emerges despite aggressively physical paint application, Gildersleeve is a descendant of Cézanne, but her palette brings to mind the unbridled color of the Fauves. The bottom two-thirds of Candyland (58 by 54 inches) is thicket of sugary yellows, bubblegum pinks and a reddish tan the color of caramel. Delivering on the title’s promise (and every child’s fantasy) of ubiquitous confectionary, even the shadowy foliage spanning the top of the painting is speckled with the colors of cinnamon and chocolate.
The artist is adept in her use of neutralized color. A cluster of closely related grays spilling across the midsection of Slippery Pink (52 by 52 inches) is a wonderfully understated foil—a “ground” in two senses—for the painting’s tangle of stems, stalks and twigs in lively tints of lime, lemon and watermelon; further, the grays facilitate the chromatic functioning of black and white, which ripple through the painting as fully invested hues.
While Gildersleeve’s touch is animated and her color sumptuous, her compositions are abruptly cropped, hedged in by the edges of the canvas as if the viewer is wearing blinders. There is no suggestion of awe-inspiring, expansive space—no “sublime” in the Romantic sense—but quite the opposite: a sort of tunnel vision that eliminates the periphery and induces a disquieting absence of context. Beyond the snaggle of sticks and tattered rags in the foreground of Hide-Out (52 by 54 inches) is a deeply recessive space that splits into two or three routes among the distant trees. Inward-slanting diagonals at the upper left and right subtly imply a vanishing point just above the top edge of the canvas, channeling space further. Similarly, in The Day Needs Fixing (54 by 60 inches) a tumbledown wall or embankment—an ancient boundary between properties?—and the sun-dappled path that parallels it recede in radical perspective to a clearing in the distance. The likelihood of becoming disoriented in these woods, of getting lost, is nil.
In a recently produced video now posted at Gorky’s Granddaughter website, Gildersleeve notes that her locations cannot be taken for wilderness. The presence of some artifact or evidence, however subtle, of human culture or habitation significantly qualifies the experience of nature. Indeed, crisscrossed by trails and obsolete stone walls, spotted with overgrown fields that once were farmed, Gildersleeve’s favored milieu is an exurban interzone where nostalgia for an agrarian past meets the exigencies of upscale housing in a postindustrial economy. Acreage buffers us from the neighbors, and vice versa.
The anxiety this conflict produces is subtle but insistent. Giants (60 by 54 inches) depicts a stand of majestic white birches bathed in midday sunlight. But for dazzled bits of whitish sky at the top, the composition is all-over, a variegated edge-to-edge field of relatively naturalistic greens and ochres in chromatic dialogue with the quirkier elements of Gildersleeve’s palette, which lurk in the shadows. The trees’ lower trunk and branches, as well as the ground plane, are cropped out of the frame; the unobstructed view is from a distance, maybe across a lawn or a parking lot. We are at an unbridgeable experiential remove from the motif; we scrutinize the vagaries of sun and shade in the foliage for meaning as if we are reading tealeaves. Here as elsewhere in this convincing exhibition, Gildersleeve’s manifest self-consciousness about her relation to the modalities of landscape painting provides a welcome bit of friction to her otherwise smoothly enjoyable blend of chromatic audacity and tactile finesse.