Workerism: Annette Wehrhahn at Soloway Gallery
Annette Wehrhahn: LIVE/WORK at Soloway Gallery
January 18 through February 22, 2015
348 South 4th Street (between Hooper and Keap streets)
Brooklyn, 347 776 1023
For “LIVE/WORK,” Annette Wehrhahn shows a new series of paintings and other propositions that revisit the indeterminable boundary between the space dedicated to living and the space for work — with the products of each infiltrating each other as equals. Black work boots and heeled pumps sit on a ledge above and in the periphery of paintings, some works insert materials like drop cloth that point back to the conditions of their making, and others include personal effects. Hide (2015) is a shirt with acrylic on canvas. The fabric, suffused with paint, is fixed and flattened with long sleeves outstretched and a jam of wrinkles permanently set. It’s worth noting that Wehrhahn is a founding member of Soloway, and her apartment and studio are on site behind the storefront exhibition space — putting Wehrhahn in the middle of the project that she and her collaborators have successfully built over the past five years, and amplifying the live-work dynamic. On this occasion, the exhibition intentionally extends into Wehrhahn’s domestic space in back where Candles (2014) hangs just inside against a lime green wall above the bed.
Werhahn’s Portable Cave Paintings relate the dimensions of the artist’s body against the work and exhibition space. The paintings are on swaths of unstretched canvas nearly as tall as the space is long, and in the earthy palette of Lascaux or Altamira. On the surface, Wehrhahn has traced her body with oil stick in overlapping seated or reclining configurations — physically marking and zoning the actual space of her body, and denoting presence like chalk outlines or a choreography diagram. The sienna, ochre, and umber oil crayons are rubbed into a waxy fictile residue that reveals tracks of activity, motion, footprints.
Most of the cave paintings are hung vertically from the ceiling, pierced with large metal grommets that liken the thick canvas to hide. Some are strung up on big hooks and another is fished through the rope of a laundry pulley as if it could be moved to alternately obscure the storefront window or the front door. For Wehrhahn, the portability of the paintings suggests a sort of nomadism. Approaching “LIVE/WORK” through the term’s associations with housing classifieds, real estate development, and gentrification, the relation to the figure to space in these works is also reflective of Wehrhahn’s considerations on how spaces like hers and others affect the surrounding neighborhood. Artists inevitably begin the neighborhood transformation that ultimately prices everyone out, and contributing, in some sense, “to our own extinction,” as she describes it.
Wehrhahn chooses to distribute the figurative cave paintings among a series of winsome, abstract, processed-based paintings — perhaps to play with another sort of artificial delineation. Works in this second set are all on roughly octagonal and ovoid-shaped wood panels. Shape with Holes (2015) bleeds matte black over primary blue and green oil paint, topped with shiny black enamel that crinkled as it set. The surface was then drilled with a hole saw — punching out a scatter plot of circular eyes that variously reveal the painted under-layers, the fresh wood beneath, or the wall behind. Table (2014) is coated in white milk paint and marked with similar drilled impressions, but with the addition of functional metal legs attached. Seat (2014) bridges these works with the Portable Cave Paintings by depicting a single chalk-lined seated figure — the aerial tracing of a rear end and legs Indian-style over the middle of the painting. Sitting at the center of the panel, you could form the shape by drawing a circle around yourself — turning at each of the interstices to continue the line. The scale of these works is roughly an arm’s length from the shape’s center, and the other abstract wood paintings, like Candle (2014), take the same scale that Seat seems to personalize.
Exhibiting her abstractions with the cave painting’s silhouettes leaves the trace of the figure on everything. That fugitive quality enables the works, when taken together, to achieve some of that distinctive sense of presence/absence felt when looking at cave art and other ancient cultural material. And ultimately, it’s a pleasurable turn of operations to see someone taking back space through painting. The paintings are a departure from Werhahn’s previous work; bright, acidly colored silkscreen prints with patterns and textures that tangle with simple, contentious conversational phrases. However, the basic operation is familiar as Wehrhahn has a capacity for extracting expressive and convincing results through outwardly simple gestures, and both series seem sprung from the same headlong mixture of psychic intensity and material ease.