by Julien Langevin
A concoction of vivid colors and surreal forms, Elizabeth Kleene’s paintings in Tadow Island are windows into dance halls and forests of fluorescent visual information. They range from organized scenes with figurative groupings like those of Anti Gravity Experiment (2011), to the clustered material experiments of Welcome to the Jungle (2014). While incorporating twists on traditional trompe l’oeil, this body of work plays on the border of humor and illusion: the red tape rendered in Welcome to the Jungle turns into an actual piece of red tape curling off the canvas, and the sticky notes with faces scribbled on them are rendered precisely. Little moments of animated realism hidden within the transcendent colorscapes keep Kleene’s viewers on their toes in the underground energy of Gallery 49 at Oxbow Blending & Bottling.
Turning out through the tone of Oxbow after a moment of adjustment, Kleene’s color concoctions set the mood. The sound of blues music playing overhead and the strong smell of hops and yeast fluidly filter through Kleene’s compositions. In a white cube, this group of paintings would expand from the walls and emulate an external rush of action. However the way they appear at Gallery 49 is more subtle: portals into calmer, intoxicated situations, yet no less vibrant. They allow the viewer to enter Tadow Island, a place that Kleene has carefully crafted to capture the vibrancy of another universe with the familiarity of our own. The works’ illusive composure on Gallery 49’s tenuously lit wall shrouds the entrance to the island at first. Yet the viewer is invited to visit by the ultra-saturated colors bouncing back and forth with the graffiti plastered on the back wall of the brewery. Both visual stimulators communicate together: the viewer is brought into the conversation to mediate the relationship of the works to their surroundings.
I was immediately captivated by the undulating forms of ribbon-like material that boast vermillion hues in Safety Circle (2014) and How to Stay Positive When Everything is Falling Apart (2014) — these paintings are more than just energetic landscapes or still lives; they are windows into thought processes foreign to my own. The works in Tadow Island all seem to be referential of unique situations, however they all share a common dialogue: they all appear to be part of the same world, one that is not where the viewer exists, but feels that they have the potential to interact with. Welcome to the Jungle compels you to peer into what could act as a tabletop — or a wall. The physical law of gravity does not seem to act as expected on Tadow Island except in moments where Kleene knows exactly how to create a symbiotic balance between energies and moments of breath. Where rendered ribbons jump out to become pieces of tape operating in three-dimensional space. A new physics is created where photos of referential trees and forest rest on abstracted depictions of similar images. The magic of Tadow Island shows itself in this play on reality — the illusion of a concurrent environment reveals itself as just a trick of the eye.
Kleene’s paintings play with traditions of classical trompe l’oeil, combining techniques of the genre to produce harmonic abstractions. However, unlike the conservative efforts of Collier and Haberle, Kleene’s illusionistic moments of trickery occur under a queer lens. The history of trompe l’oeil painting suggests the illusion of objects on a surface. Kleene’s world queers this by embracing contradiction. The delightfully deceiving surface qualities of some of the pieces indicate that the objects depicted are not as they seem. In works like Splat Collector (2014), the viewer is abandoned to realize that what they thought was a thick glob of paint was actually a tightly rendered image of a glob of material, while in Happy, Lucky, Good (2014) a convincingly rendered black rope is intersected by a spread of pure paint. The works are just as much about material exploration as they are illusion. Kleene is unhindered when it comes to combining skill and calculated chance. The viewer is lead through the landscape of the illusive island by ocular instruction at the hand of Kleene’s calculated rendering and experimentation.
Elizabeth Kleene’s Tadow Island is a thrilling odyssey, thwarting the intersection of content and context. The exhibition provides a breath for those looking to venture outside the traditional arts venue without completely losing touch, while also providing a refreshing visual excursion for those with a true love for painting. Combined with the aura of Oxbow and Gallery 49, the enigmatic optical journey Kleene’s viewers are destined to take makes Tadow Island a show to savour.
Tadow Island, paintings by Elizabeth Kleene, runs through June 30, 2017 at Gallery 49 at Oxbow Blending & Bottling in Portland.
Oxbow Blending & Bottling
49 Washington Ave, Portland, Maine | 207.350.0025
Open Sunday through Tuesday 12–9pm and Wednesday through Saturday 12–11pm