Necessary Arrangements, curated by Jennifer Samet, features recent still life paintings by Simon Carr, Xico Greenwald, Ying Li, Janice Nowinski, Betsy Podlach, and Thaddeus Radell. Necessary Arrangements focuses on the genre of still life, paintings that begin as tabletop arrangements and from there are translated into compelling compositions of forms and colors. The artists in this show share a commitment to representation and the narrative that comes with the depiction of recognizable objects, as well as a serious engagement with the abstract organization of their painting. United by an effort to further the living tradition of still life, each of the seven artists in this exhibit approaches the genre differently- both what they paint and how they paint; cluttered tabletops or spare still life setups, thick paint in bold strokes or thin paint applied with a knife, restricted, tonal palettes or full-spectrum color- through still life, the seven artists in Necessary Arrangements, are carrying on a contemporary conversation with one of art history’s richest traditions.
Stilled Time by Jennifer Samet
“When I paint flowers, I want them to be flowers. I pursue their character. They are dense with memory and association. Resting in a vase full of water, the light moves through the jar, the stems move through the light, the stems soften, light bent around them. These events, then, are the narrative.” - Simon Carr
“I work mostly from memory of objects that have been floating around my studio for years. On the panel, they surface and disappear, jostle for position, and, over time, find their true placement in relation to each other.” – Thaddeus Radell
To paint the still life is to both freeze time and call our attention to its infinity. The flower, cut and taken out of the landscape, is transformed; the moment of transformation can be captured forever in paint. Vessels, cups, knives, can become animated by geometry and rhythms of painting. These sorts of transformations and animations are visible in this group of six painters, which we could divide into two groups. In one are Carr, Podlach, and Greenwald, who handle the objects as discrete, and let a story build through their elemental nature. In the other are Radell, Nowinski, and Li, for whom the interactions of the objects into an overall surface become the story.
The personality in Nowinski’s Turkish Pot rests in its quirky geometry – the impatient mark with which she describes the pot’s handle, the slightly off-kilter table legs. It is about things uneasily fitting together, the way the objects penetrate each other and are flattened. Nowinski says, “The placement of objects can be dramatic sometimes: a fork hovering on the edge of a bowl, a knife angled at another object. Violence and death feel present more often than not.” On the other hand, one could treat the still life—the flower—as a portrait, by isolating it. In Podlach’s painting, ultimately, it is the unseen interior of the rose we remember, the temptation that is suggested by allowing its paleness to partially meld into white ground, the way curves play against the dissolving of space. She says, “I try to have the flowers in the still lives take on a persona, be stand-ins for live presences. I look for beauty when I walk into my favorite florist in Sag Harbor. It’s like I used to feel walking into a bakery, wanting to buy the thing that created that smell.”
In Greenwald’s work each object is distinct, but it is the grouping of them that creates associations: the personification and coupling of upright clothespins, the rawness of a small brush near a wide jug. The objects become deliberate, charged (he refers to his paintings as “flat-footed,” which is humble but also revealing of aesthetic strategy.) The areas of bare canvas and separation of objects in Greenwald’s painting are countered, in this exhibition, by Li’s troweled-on paint, her allowing the still life elements to become part of a surface where it is the force of the mark that causes reverberations, and the undoing of the object. She plays with this in her paintings of a pomegranate—what fruit is more dramatic to open, after all? As she says: “I resort to taking apart the scene before my eyes and, in the process of rearranging it, I embark on a journey without a map.”
The allure of still life is partly that challenge to metamorphose the object. Carr’s flowers often stretch across the canvas like hyper-extended arms, dramatic hand gestures. He says that gladioli are like “some kind of ocean life, something from a reef, reaching, breathing, searching for food and light.” Radell approaches the metamorphosis in reverse, returning a specific object to its geometric basis. Italian coffee makers, “the first object, from time immemorial, that gives each morning its meaning,” cones, bowls, toy boats are pared down into building blocks of form, their color neutralized into Radell’s gray-brown canvases, the arrangements enlivened, made lush. The objects are no longer portraits; the temporal becomes the repeated structuring of space.
For each of these painters in this exhibition, it is the slower revelations that count, that allow the object to transform. Over time, the personality of the flower is immortalized into portrait, the inanimate is animated.