Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kay Jackson at Addison Ripley, reviewed by Lauren Rice

Addison Ripley’s current exhibition of Kay Jackson’s paintings consists of 32 works, all oil on canvas, some of which incorporate gold or copper leaf into to the painting. Most of the paintings are figurative landscapes that depict isolated California street scenes or silhouetted country houses at twilight. The paintings focus on the lit windows inside the houses against the falling blue of night, usually using a blue/orange color scheme for this effect. My most immediate impression was that of a voyeur—the perspective of the viewer is almost always looking from the outside into the house. The paintings all have a subtle horror movie stalker kind of feel. This is perhaps the most unique impression I felt throughout the entire show. That said, Jackson’s paintings are half-hearted even in this respect. If the artist’s purpose is to make me feel uncomfortable the paintings should have been pushed further. They counteract the viewer’s discomfort with their sentimentality. It may very well be my own bias, but I am not deeply affected by any of the works on view due to Jackson’s paint application or lack thereof. The paintings have no impasto whatsoever and the dark colors are painted too thickly for a Rembrandt-like glow. I recall the paintings as being very flat with little tonal variation. I feel as if I could have seen any one of the paintings on a greeting card. The only thing that makes them stand out in my mind is the artist’s use of gold leaf.

The gold leaf appears to be the artist’s gimmick as it was used to heighten the impact of the orangey-yellows against the blues and purples. Not being familiar with the artist’s oeuvre before visiting the gallery, I am still a little confused why she continues to incorporate this medium into her paintings. After reviewing several older works online, which were primarily decorative ensembles of gold leaf and tempera on wood, I understand a little more why Jackson uses gold leaf. However, although I am not drawn to her earlier works, the gold leaf serves a more definite purpose by recalling the decorative qualities of gold leaf in architecture and non-western artworks in an assertive way. In her early works, the leaf is used throughout the whole painting, instead of as highlights. The gold leaf Jackson uses in her recent paintings seems like an afterthought.

Of the works in the show, I am interested in specific elements in just a few of the paintings. LA Palm, 2006, a small painting of a lonely palm tree against street signs and telephone wires, conveys nostalgia for uninhibited nature. Furthermore, the artist has scraped away some of her thin painting in this work which allows for some surface contrast and alludes to the artist’s own struggle to get a form right. Palladian Window, a painting of a silhouette of tree branches smashed up against the orange light of a window offered an unexpected sense of ambiguity. Initially, I felt as if I was inside a room looking out at a tree in the sunset. However, after looking closer, the tree was painted over the window, giving the impression that the viewer was in the tree looking into the window. Although this uncertainty was disconcerting, I am not convinced that this was done purposefully. Are these things supposed to be done purposefully? I am not sure. My overall impression after leaving the gallery is that Jackson is not sure either.

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