Saturday, September 13th 7-10pm | 2014 | Main Gallery: Virginia Broersma

                                                                              | Project Room: Becca Shewmake


Virginia Broersma: Dithyrambic

The paintings of Broersma occupy an enigmatic space where anthropomorphic gestures collide with classical genre painting. Her bent, twisted and twirling forms weave the figure and the environment together into a seamless pictorial event. Executed in a manner that is both haptic and subtle, Broersma's painterly vocabulary mixes a reserved sensualism with dithyrambic operations. As such, her unique take on classical themes like 'the bathers' and 'the odalisque' challenge not only traditional ideas of beauty and design, but they explore the shifting space between figurative naturalism and the (post-)modern preoccupation with formlessness.

As such, Broersma's work avoids being read as a display of figurative pathos or another return to painterly 'heroism'. Instead, her images develop a dialectics of dissonance based on revealing and concealing, veiling and unveiling, determined mark marking and improvisational actions. These dynamic qualities, which represent forms coming in and out of being, also reveal a second set of questions concerning the phenomenal quality of what is being pictured. That is to say, a closer reading of Broersma's images quickly reveals a 'catalog' of pictures that stand twice removed from the subjects they portray. Of course, this is the case not only because painting is always already a form of mediation, but because the subjects in her source material hint at museum lighting techniques and the staged quality of the cultural imaginary in the era of hyper-mediation.

By making us aware of the split between the affect of 'staging' and the rhetoric of display, Broersma's work asks us to question not just how we think about classical themes as a reflection of socio-political and gendered interests, but also how iconic images are constructed as a total experience that extends well beyond the confines of what is 'pictured'. In other words, it is not just the aura of the image that serves as the raw material for Broersma's art practice, but rather, an engagement with the very techniques that are used to produce the 'quality' of the iconic for public consumption.

Thus, Broersma is not just another history painter of sorts, or someone who is interested in painting figurative morphologies, even though both of these concerns are central to her art practice. Rather, what we find at play in Broersma's imagery, beyond a certain painterly opulence, is that her images court an indefinable space that consists of endless questions about canonical works and their conditions of presentment. This paradoxical doublebind - of reworking historical or academic themes in order to make them more porous and less identifiable - is what gives Broersma's project a unique sense of purchase in the contemporary moment.

Composed of inerrant indices of the iconographic, her paintings work to reconfigure the status attributed to the image as a cultural artifact by directly addressing the crisis of terminal metastasis known as pluralism. Not only that, but Broersma's oeuvre challenges the cult-like 'status' of the image by sampling techniques and imagery from the most over-determined styles of picture making and then making- them-over into new models of plastic expression.

What we witness in such moments is the apotheosis of the 'grand manner' as it becomes subject to the mutations of improvisation over and against the auratic techniques of exhibition design as well as the 'quality' of mechanical and/or digital reproduction. Most importantly however, Broersma's work takes up this position as a process of open-ended play, providing a polyvalent reading of history painting that is a rare and honest achievement in a period of art production that often derides the codex of historical themes as retrograde or simply démodé. In Broersma's theater of pictorial pleasures, the themes of modernity take on a new vitality, not just for engaging with the past, but for opening up new avenues in thinking about the pictorial problematic in the early twenty-first century.

Bio: Virginia Broersma (b. San Diego, CA) received her BFA in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA in 2004. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at Fermilab Art Gallery in Batavia, IL and group exhibitions at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, CA and at JAUS, Autonomie, and with 5790projects in Los Angeles, CA. Upcoming exhibitions will include a group show that will be traveling to the Palazzo della Provincia de Frosinone in Italy, and to the Oceanside Museum of Art and the Riverside Art Museum in Southern California. Broersma has been the recipient of a several grants including funding from the California Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Puffin Foundation and was awarded a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago, IL, which she received in both 2010 and 2011. Broersma currently lives in Long Beach, CA.














Becca Shewmake: Assembler Clouds

The works of Shewmake collide the unmentionable with the intentional, resemblance with semblance and the graphic with the haptic. Consisting of highly stylized, layered surfaces, Shewmake's paintings are rich in both affect and allusion. Moving between the abstract and the figurative, her anamorphic characters float, merge and simply cohabitate in a manner that creates a sense of psychological unease. These rather precarious pictorial relations are further highlighted through the use of asymmetrical pairings and unequally weighted compositions. The contrast between tension and playfulness in her work develops out of an implied narrative that acts as a place of projection and desire for the viewer.

Working with a scatological vocabulary that celebrates the pitiful, the shabby and the embryonic is what allows for Shewmake's imagery to open onto diverse readings, readings that range from solemn empathy to abstract allegories. Whether seen as modern refuse, postmodern refusal, or contemporary refugees, Shewmake's hybrid figures are often cast in bas-relief from the environments they inhabit. By bringing together varied strategies from color field painting, neo-expressionism and gestural abstraction Shewmake's pictorial vocabulary creates a fusion of effects that range from the clinical to the emotive.

Extending a tradition of cartoon-like figuration beyond the manic images of George Condo or the psychosexual figures of Carroll Dunham, Shewmake's works ask us to consider the possibility of subtler narrative devices. Neither overwrought nor underworked, her pictorial sensibilities move between attraction and repulsion without needing to insist on an aesthetics of the non-descript. Rather, her idoscyncratic imagery emerges from a deft hand and a mood of thoughtful repose. This approach to feeling one's way through the figurative impulse allows the viewer to settle into a space of imaginative conjecture, and ultimately, of active reception.

Whether seen as a commentary on modes and models of painting, or as a visual anthropology of the figurative impetus, Shewmake's work makes us more aware of how it feels to be a subject of expression in an age of subjective compression. Her oeuvre might even be considered to be a form of notetaking, or a catalogue of sorts, about the status of the subject in the age of accelerated capitalism, where a fleeting impression, a minor indication or an affected contour is enough to put us in touch with what remains of the human condition in era that is often 'characterized' as post-human.

From this point of view, Shewmake's paintings could be seen as representing an uneasy form of realism that serves as a timely meditation on the contradictions of figuration's past, present and future. If anything, they are certainly emblematic of thinking about figuration as a verb tense, or even as a dangling participle. The idea of the figure as an intractable event is what makes Shewmake's contribution of special import in field of phenomenal and psychological impressions. As such, Shewmake's work makes more of an impression for not letting its viewers off with a sense of resolve, but rather, for opening up a myriad of questions that might be thought of as visual gestation, or of thinking about figuration itself as the muse of perpetual inquiry.

Bio: Becca Shewmake received her Master of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Long Beach in 2013, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 2005.  Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the Midwest and California, including the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN, and the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California.





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