Saturday, November 9, 2013

For Instance Laura Bidwa

For Instance Me is the title of 
Laura Bidwa, Creature I Don't Know (green), 2012. Oil and acrylic
on panel, 11 x 15."
painter Laura Bidwa's current show in Room, an intimate gallery space at Columbus College of Art and Design. You'll have to sprint to see it by the time this review comes out (it closes on November 15), but your raised pulse will calm once you get there. Bidwa's work is contemplative, mysterious, and serene. A visit to this show is like looking into  the variety and nuance of one beautiful, thoughtful mind. The thirteen paintings arise from one visual premise yet they show great variety. There's no doubt that you stand in a unified, unique environment. You have the opportunity to explore its fascinating details, for within the given of a loosely gathered, pastel mass situated against a black background, each painting is wholly independent of its neighbors. It's one cast of mind with many kinds of thoughts.

Bidwa engages us with the figures—those irregular, translucent forms that sometimes drift, sometimes propel themselves across the black, sanded fields of her paintings—by means of suggestive titles. These never explain, declare, or pin down her subjects because ambiguity is their nature. 

Laura Bidwa, Creature I Don't Know (yellow, 1), 2012. Oil and acrylic on
panel, 11 x 15."

A big part of my pleasure in Bidwa's work is a sense of peace with undefined outcomes. Four of the thirteen paintings are Creature(s) I Don't Know. Well, I sure don't either! But there they are, whether or not I know or can define them. These paintings—with figures of various colors, densities, shapes, positions; placed against backgrounds of greater or lesser opacity—have quite a strong effect on me. They remind me of the frequency of my own "unknown," subliminal thoughts. Do they move across my consciousness like meteorites; like dust; like clouds? Are they fragments, or blind spots? Do I see the thoughts I don't focus on? Or do I simply neglect them? My ideas may have nothing at all to do with what Bidwa thought or sought to do. But the multivalence of art is one standard of its power. Considered this way, Bidwa's is explosive.
Laura Bidwa, Literally. Oil and acrylic on panel, 17 x 22."

Bidwa is clearly not an automatic painter—she does not paint in a trance, nor give us what comes to her spontaneously. But it is part of her art to convey a sense of the momentary, yet to still it so we can seize upon the flashpoint of connection, when a word or a vision blinks across the mind, usually to be lost as it occurs. I cannot parse or explain her painting, Literally. But the invitation to connect the word, the concept, and the image can't be passed up. "Literally" makes us think of something accurate, real, and certain. What does it mean that the figure is suspended, has substance, and pleasing color? That the black background is rent, exposing a creamy beyond? Bidwa nudges us into alertness to quiet questions, and into a sense that they are all around us, breathing into the thin fabric of daily consciousness.

Laura Bidwa, That's the Way That It Ends, Oil and Acrylic on panel, 17 x 22."

I particularly like the painting,That's the Way That It Ends, especially in its relationship to the others in the show. In this one, Bidwa has not sanded off any of the black paint. In fact, she has returned with it to partially paint over the colored figure. She has applied dots of color to the surface of many of her paintings in a way that feels almost light-hearted. When she does it here, their force is different because they bolster a sense of spatial depth. In all of the paintings one feels three dimensions, but in few do the layers of space seem to impinge on one another. Here they do, as the figure seems to be absorbed into the unbroken background. That's the Way That It Ends, folks. This image is unrelieved and heavy in contrast to its neighbors, adding an arresting change of mood and idea to the show.

For Instance Me is a masterful show. Bidwa does subtle and resonant work with a just a few, repeated visual elements. She is utterly confident in her process, materials, and the strength of her communication. She is also aware of the breadth and depth of her potential audience. Through her titles especially, she open doors to the mysterious paintings and encourages our minds to travel the ground she has traced.

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