DAVID COHEN, Editor           
      Winter 2001  


Torild Stray

Anna K Gallery
36 Grammercy Park East 4W
New York, NY 10003

212 460 5447

By Jock Ireland

Torild Stray Metamorphoses 1998-2001
oil on linen, 69 x 73 inches
, courtesy the artist


Torild Stray probably hasn't spent a lot of time studying Richard Serra's work. They both have shows up now though. John Currin has a show up too. I don't see much of a connection between Currin's work and Stray's even though bodies figure in both oeuvres. Currin seems to be interested in the "technical" ways of making illusions---I don't know why---maybe because he's an Artist. Stray's work is insistently physical, about "real" presence---it's like Serra's.

In a couple of Stray's paintings you enter the painting by marching your way up between a woman's legs. You enter some of Serra's things by walking through a slit and arriving in unfamiliar territory---space he's described not unlike that in Japanese gardens, governed by memory and anticipation. Somewhere Henry Miller describes entering a vagina as being like walking into a hotel lobby. In the past the space in Stray's paintings has been more hotel lobby-like, more "Renaissance"---the feel of her realism's not unlike the feel of Miller's. What's new---at least what's front and center for the first time---about the paintings at the Anna K. Gallery is the weirdness of the space, its visionary dimension---the room for memory, hope and fear. (Of course Miller has plenty of visionary moments too---I'm sure he'd love Stray's work.)

Serra takes you for a ride. Stray seems to be trying to tell a story, though she doesn't always seem to know what she's talking about---which isn't necessarily bad---not as bad as telling too easy a story---the story of how all women are Oppressed Victims, for example. Her story is complex. It seems to be partly personal, and to be trying to be universal---the cosmic color, the "Northern Light" lifting ordinary studio events (and some not so ordinary) into a strangely mythic realm. She struggles to give meaning to the paintings pretty much all by herself. She does look to the Western tradition of oil painting for help---there's prose from Matisse, some Munch---but she looks impatiently, distractedly. I'd like to see her just swipe a story---from Ping Chong's great Edda: Viking Tales of Lust, Revenge and Family, say---in the way Nilima Sheikh and Shahazia Sikander borrow from Asian traditions. But the story and the drawing and the forms will become clearer, fuller---but, I hope, not more "expert"---I have no need for another Lucien Freud---with time.

Over the summer Arthur Danto wrote about the Picasso Erotique show that was up in Montreal. The title of Danto's piece was "Vagina Monologue." He began talking about Duchamp's whatever-it's-called peephole thing, but what I remember was at the end when he said 1. The Demoiselles was an inhuman, Formalist masterpiece he's never understood, and 2. The "dirty pictures" were really good---human. Stray's paintings don't have much in common with Picasso's dirty pictures. Her paintings have more in common with the incomprehensible Demoiselles. The dirty pictures are directly about sex. Stray's are not. Her subject is vulnerability, but there's a real dignity to this vulnerability---I guess because of its humanity---but I don't really know where the dignity comes from. Vaginas are in these days---so's The Abject. What makes Stray's work different from the usual careerist engagement with these "themes"---it's NOT that she uses oil paint instead of ketchup and mayonnaise---it's the strange nobility of her figures.

see more images by Torild Stray

Jock Ireland teaches sculpture at the 92nd Street Y.


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