Friday, January 3, 2014

journey to the sun

Sauna Domes, 2013, acrylic and oil on wood

Elizabeth Huey: Radiant Swim
Harper's Books

Oh, yes -- give me beachfront motels, turquoise pools, cabanas and coconuts, 
flaming heat. Take me there. Now. 

Or, take me to Harper's Books in East Hampton where the blazing white sun bears 
down on a group of masterful swimscapes by Elizabeth Huey. Being immersed in 
these paintings is like vacationing in a Sam Fuller movie where dreamy panoramas 
of poolside leisure and boozy, bikini-clad evenings are scorched by light day and night, 
as if the sun were afflicted by lens flare. 

The paintings -- a blistering mix of flatness and depth -- are electrifying. 

Observation Pool, 2013, acrylic and oil on wood

Jess Frost, curator of the exhibit, selected works that move through narrative and composition with breakneck speed -- nearly flying off the canvas at every turn -- yet they manage to linger, like memory. 

Huey's imagery is nostalgic but fugitive, or illusory, with passages that function like flashbacks from a dream or a long ago family vacation. Tinged with fleeting, alluring dramas, they captivate the eye. My own memory of soaking in the steaming salt baths outside Las Vegas on a chilly February morning -- the mountains silhouetted against a crisp blue sky -- comes alive here.

Sunblind Splash, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas

A hot sky absolutely fries the canvas over Sunblind Splash, a painterly aggregate of scumbling, scraping, brushwork and, well...splashes. There's so much activity in paintings such as this one that you end up reading them like a book, scanning the surface for tension and psychology, spatial disparity and subversions in tone, perspective, distance. An amalgam of cutaways, jump cuts, perspectival structures and glorious leaps of faith, Huey's sumptuous brush and knife work combines with aspects of collage to startling affect. 

In many of these works, the pool functions like a proscenium stage with small dramas played in it, around it, and in spite of it. Huey understands theatricality, and she lays down her scenes with powerful vistas in two and three-point perspective. The pools, which lay foreground or midground, variously stand or recede, bouncing in between front and back, and they usually possess a sense of perspective that grounds the entire composition. Like a generous lead act, they function as gemstones, inviting the peripheral action to take center stage in spite of, or perhaps because of, their glint.

Violet Moonrise, 2013, acrylic and oil on wood

Huey's cavorting tourists are slathers of thick brush work defined by deep fleshy strokes, as if the artist is channelling the late great Richard Diebenkorn. Gorgeous. 

In Violet Moonrise (above) the open umbrella tipped at mid-ground doubles as a slice of that ubiquitous and mouthwatering Florida orange and all the while, a purple sky hangs in the distance. It's exhilarating. 

Private Pool Party, 2013, oil on linen

Huey lives in Brooklyn, where painting has recently been reinvented. She studied psychology at George Washington University, and by all accounts has maintained an lifelong interest in the science of the mind. 

In Private Pool Party, plinths and partial walls rise from the poolside like ancient portals held inside a dark vessel. The road sign that hovers above looks like a full moon in the pitch dark sky yet the leisure set lingers on, bathed in hot white light. It's an otherworldly place where night and day coexist, linked as if poised between culture and psyche.

Radiant Swim, 2013, Acrylic and oil on panel

Huey is also an avid collector of vintage photos and a crack photographer in her own right, and she derives subject matter from a pastiche of found and created photographs. The exhibition namesake above, Radiant Swim is a concise work with sharply defined compositional elements that skewer the picture place. The reiteration of those hulking golden arches, an aspect of the retro-architecture that inhabits much of the artist's visual field, anchors the image field with the sort of grand gesture that only a seasoned painter can pull off. 

Moonlight Soak, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas

At day's end, the faceless sunbathers, palm trees and shiny pools huddle together like potent signifiers from our collective memory bank, a powerful visual elixir. But it's the confidence and vision with which Huey executes her paintings that will draw you to and keep you looking at this work.  

Red Sky Submersion, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas

It's always a good time to see wonderful paintings, but today is a great day to see the sunshine.

Soft Wind, 2013, acrylic and oil on wood

Elizabeth Huey: Radiant Sun is on view through February 18th. Don't miss the opening reception tomorrow, January 4, from 6-8pm at Harper's Books.