Monday, November 26, 2012

From Tapestry Room into the Garden: New Oil Paintings by Elsie Sanchez

Elsie Sanchez, BREATHE, oil on canvas, 2011. 56 x 68." Courtesy of the artist.
The Keny Galleries in Columbus are showing Elsie Sanchez's work of the past two years. The show runs through December 7. 

Sanchez's medium is oil paint. Her canvases have a teeming, gnarly fluency; they feel as though the paint climbed and gathered itself onto the surfaces. Her paintings seem like acts of will and idea; of partnership with paint, rather than use of it. 

Any single piece in this highly sensual body of work exerts a powerful attraction. Sanchez does not stint on color nor does she dilute it. Since she works in small strokes and patches, her canvases define "teeming." BREATHE, from 2011, is what she would call a "tapestry," fascinated as she is with the process of weaving. It's an excellent metaphor for what she has made, a surface of great depth and texture, the warmth of which enfolds the viewer at first glance. It radiates into the room; it vibrates, pulsates. Yet it is stable; it is uniform, and its forms are clearly differentiated. From a distance, its "blue heart" is evident.

BREATHE detail. Author photo.
BREATHE is over 4-1/2 by 5-1/2 feet in size. Sanchez painted it—as she does everything—without more than a few marks—without prior drawing or guidelines—on the canvas. The even flow of the color units and outlinings are the result of her slow, contemplative process, which equally values each individual daub of paint. Close inspection of her canvases makes this radiantly clear, for every form has a unique and personal air; each stands out never as a rushed repetition, but as a deliberate and considered statement. If we, as viewers, put any amount of time at all into standing before this painting, we will find it difficult not to compare the inherent will and movement of our bodies with the highly colored regularity of the canvas; to feel a sense of the brilliant variety and depth available within the concept of patient regularity.

Elsie Sanchez, Sanctuary II, 2012. Oil on canvas, 20 x 18."
Courtesy of the artist.
Sanchez has been moving in a new direction, from the weaving model into work that both organically and logically extends it. Her work of 2012 continues the pods of color, but in a mixture of different sizes, shapes, and relationships; in new palettes; and, as a result, with new illusion of depth back and forth through the painting's surface. Had Van Gogh painted abstractly, would it have looked like this? It's a moot question, but Sanchez's forms and colors in Sanctuary II may remind viewers of the Dutch painter. There may even be an impulse to describe the writhing shapes as "tormented" or "tortured." 

I think this painting approaches the pictorial, though, in having sections that are defined by different colors (ochres and pinks of the top compared to lower greens and blues), shapes (the flames of yellow leaping up) and even the suggestion of foreground, as in the peaks that arise from the bottom edge of the canvas. Sanchez's color choices have eased into the pastel region from the highly saturated primary and secondary colors, making for a vernal palette. Rather than torment, I tend to feel in the image the dense violence of spring's growth, the riot of nature's forms and colors shoving and unfolding themselves into the light.

Elsie Sanchez, Response, 2012. Oil on canvas. 32 x 26." Courtesy of the artist.

Response detail. Author photo.
The two most recent paintings in the Keny show move even farther into suggestions of the botanical, or into that sensuous area where floral and sexual intertwine. In Glimpse and Response, a palette considerably reduced and refined to golden yellow and crimson is opulent, tactile, suggestive. The eyes travel the curves of these surfaces like a lover's over a concubine's; the hands wish to do the same, so thickly applied and rich is the paint. If the canvas reminds us a little of Klimt's golden opulence of lovers, this is, by contrast, all expression. No figures are present or required to convey the freedom, the intensity, or the artful control of the feeling of the botanical and sexual this painting conveys. 

I find Response a thrilling work. I love it for what Sanchez does extraordinarily well: She conveys the pinnacle of emotion and sensation; the sense of smoldering passion both fresh and studied— sustained just short of the consuming flame.
Elsie Sanchez, Glimpse, 2012. Oil on canvas. 32 x 28."
Courtesy of the artist.

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