“Talk Show” at Edward Thorp Gallery

Clare Grill, E.T. (2010), oil on linen on panel, 18″ x 13″; courtesy Edward Thorp Gallery

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An exhibition title offers a putative rationale for the art organized under its rubric; it can bring order—or, at least, a sense of connectedness—to what may otherwise be a disparate array of objects. Such is the case, almost, with Talk Show, an exhibition of six painters at Edward Thorp Gallery.

Good luck identifying a thematic commonality. Sure, each artist works with recognizable imagery and trades in oblique mise-en-scenes. The gallery’s insistence that they “interpret and explore multiple narratives” is encompassing enough to count not at all. That the artists are all women seems a moot point in our post-feminist age, at least as it applies to outright political impetus.

The Talk Show conceit sticks all the same. Perhaps it’s something as corny and true as the notion that every artist has her own individual voice, but there’s something else afoot as well: A nagging sense of the limitations (or fallibility) of representation. A rueful air surrounds the work of Katherine Bradford, Maureen Cavanaugh, Clare Grill, Judith Linhares, Bettina Sellman and Judy Simonian. It’s as if each painter is commenting upon a lack of unified cultural purpose in a niche-heavy 21st century.

OK—so it’s a stretch, but there’s no denying the intense and sometimes forbiddingly narrow scope of the art. Linhares’ oddball fantasies, with their taffy-like forms and honeyed palette, offer the faux naiveté of a seasoned artist attempting to embody adolescence. Sellman does something similar, albeit with a looser wrist, a warmer palette and an over-reliance on pictorial tropes gleaned from Marlene Dumas. Cavanaugh treads an unsure line between blasé sophistication and honest amateurishness, though her image of a woman diving off a pier has its own skewed pull.

Simonian’s fractured takes on architecture and domesticity are too contrived by half, but the resulting paintings are nonetheless diverting and smart. Bradford elicits a wobbly nostalgia through casual, almost ham-handed means and forms derived, in equal parts, from storybook illustrations and late Philip Guston.

Grill is the most evocative of the bunch, preferring, as she does, suggestion over exposition. Her fragmentary images–a house in the woods, a birthday cake set ablaze, a ruffled shirt stained with blood–are, alternately, mundane and haunting, fleeting and fraught with symbolism. Their ragged surfaces and austere mood betoken otherworldly portent worthy of Shirley Jackson.

Talk Show is a lumpish affair, but it does stick in the memory longer than you’d initially think–which is, in the end, some kind of feat.

© 2010 Mario Naves

Originally published in the April 20, 2010 edition of City Arts.

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