Woodward Gallery welcomes Jo Ellen Van Ouwerkerk’s “Curious Sanctuary” from January 29 - March 19, 2011. A brilliant painter who seemingly channels the late 19th century, Van Ouwerkerk’s women are intriguing and complicated. Her characters show their personal state of being and engage in ritualistic scenes carried out in special places. They push the acceptable boundaries of a time long ago - or perhaps even today - and tempt us to become voyeurs.
This body of work is a view into these women’s private day-to-day existence. “My paintings are not intended to be fantasies; everything is actually as you see it.” One woman thinks she hears women whispering above her in a cavernous room. The women are real as far as the subject is concerned.
Sanctuaries are private places not meant to be seen by the public. If you could see in, like an invisible voyeur, everything would appear surprising, not easily understood. Very formal and exactly what you would expect on the outside - a woman poses in her nightgown and new hat, yet behind closed doors, her nightgown is slightly open and you catch a glimpse of her body made of moths.
The images are unexpected at first glance. You are looking into someone’s room or looking at a moment in her life without a back story. By not analyzing what she is thinking, you accept everything as real. The painting of women gathering at piles of wood while one gets ready to be set on fire, is not necessarily terrifying as no one seems to be frightened. There is calm resignation on the face of the woman in the foreground in that very moment the character looks outward.
Jo Ellen Van Ouwerkerk’s characters are seen for the one frame of their story. Her vision broadens our reference for normal. We follow marvelously entranced in their personal and curious situations.