Anjuli Rathod, Vanessa Brown
The Far Off Blue Places
October 5, 2017-November 11, 2017
Anjuli Rathod and Vanessa Brown are emerging artists whose work interplays oneirically in The Far Off Blue Places at Projet Pangée, where the viewer becomes a shadow character from the works themselves, walking among pieces rendered alternately in two and three dimensions. Both artists present strong, whimsical, dreamy work that one can return to again and again to discover new elements and interpretations. The imagery and colour in these paintings and sculptures rhymes and riffs in a harmonious manner without feeling forced. The works in this exhibit are markedly influenced by surrealism yet also brings in contemporary concerns and display a love of materials as well as the symbolic.
Anjuli Rathod is a young painter from Queens, New York, who has been making sophisticated paintings for such a young artist. Her works in this show are acrylic and flashe, a vinyl-based, matte, opaque material. She possesses an elegant and variegated visual vocabulary, gleaned from sessions of automatic drawing. The themes function like elements of recurring dreams you try to piece together upon waking, but which resist logic and linearity. These paintings also often feel like playful clues in a hallucinogenic mystery story, strongly featuring elements such as keys, question marks, footprints, locks, notes, and knives. There are nods to surrealism in Rathod’s work, and you can also feel a subtle influence from such painters as Chagall and Guston. Her colours, saturated but not hyper-saturated, form a largely primary palette, muted by the thinness of the paint. There is a marked dominance of royal blue and softened electric blue. You can tell early on that Rathod’s practice has a foundation in water-based media, and recognize her strength in drawing; not in the way of a conventionally exceptional draughtsperson, rather in her confidence of exploration. There is an awareness of uncertainty, but also a drive to push on. The movement of brushwork in this series looks windswept, always from left to right, a west wind, perhaps warm.
There is a pervasive sense of mystery to these works. Her stream of consciousness leads us on as if we are in a game of Clue. What has happened? A crime? A surreptitious romance? What secrets are kept and which revealed? Footsteps become question marks. Beyond the somnambulic imagery and process-based, intuitive approach taken from the surrealists, Rathod’s motif of the hole or well is reminiscent of Dali’s voids. Encountering serpents, candles, knives, shells, ropes, question marks and spiders, we are reminded of our forgotten dreams which fill us with a sense of déjà-vu. We are brought into a realm of fear, anxiety, wonder, and hope, a world rife with desire and uncertainty. One of the most noticeable presences in these paintings are the grasping, clawed, demonic hands and cartoon footprints, which conjure thoughts of the way we make and the way we go. Here is life as a journey or a mystery, a puzzle to be solved and concurrently, the sense of allowing it to be so.
Compared to Rathod’s older work, this series offers some new developments. She continues to invoke surrealism with the collage style and dreamy imagery which evades direct interpretation. However, the new paintings have a different, blue-focused palette, they are more harmonious and uniform in their use of space, while remaining inventive in the use of form. The artist works with specific imagery in each series but allows old elements to leak in.
Getting specific, Blue Shell Well features a spider which resembles an electric current travelling between two mask-like faces which are also giant pennies. A conch shell graces the foreground, and the terrain bears faded footprints you could almost miss. A butter-coloured high-heeled hoof descends, with a serpent behind. We see a hole with a rope in it, which reads like a void in the fabric of the nocturnal landscape, simultaneously muscled and made of fabric. Considering the title, this hole is clearly a simplified well. Despite being omnipresent mythologically, particularly in the Old Testament, wells are paradoxically sources of life-giving water and also present life-endangering risk, of drowning or poisoning. In Night Scene there is the spider, upside-down this time, crawling between two stage-like red curtains, with its comrade behind. With the knife floating apart from the grasping hands we are given a sense of wanting, grasping, desire and fear intermingled. Shadow and light stand apart in sharp contrast. The repeated image of the conch shell, worn by the sea snail, appears again here and pervades this body of work. Besides bearing a beautiful spiral shape, the conch is richly textured with points on the outside, and silky smooth like skin or porcelain on the interior. The conch is a important symbol and presence in Hindu mythology, for initiating a ritual auspiciously with a haunting om-like bellow, it is redolent of beginnings and purity.
On a table in Waiting is the ubiquitous, patient spider and carrots which float off to the top of the canvas. The carrot is a returning theme from Rathod’s older work, perhaps symbolic of desire, motivation or temptation. Behind the table is a large, inverted head with closed eyes, and behind that, a thin veil and a silhouette of a woman illuminated in the doorframe. In What Fires, a Burning Room there are footprints which turn into question marks, a large key, and a lock framed by a patchwork of colours and legs. Are they walking away, or ascending to some higher dimension? One resembles an X-ray, you can see its bones. It is as if a voice is saying, look harder, look inside. Hatch has a strong use of shadow against grey stone, cut-out shapes like paper with shadows of window panes with spiders crawling across them. These rocks are presented before a green screen, tears in the fabric of reality? A Place Called Home, my favourite of this series, shows a destabilized room, upheaved as if by earthquake, a humble table with a conch atop it. Two snakes intertwine and ascend, triggering thoughts of kundalini, the sacred energy that travels up the spine during samadhi or spiritual union, but they could also be interpreted as a caduceus in the way they are joined together. A switched-off fan rests on the table, the night feels cool and blue. A beam of light thick enough to touch illuminates a pile of discarded socks that a ghoulish hand is reaching for. Pennies proliferate, a thing that has value but is practically worthless. Perhaps this is the artist’s studio at night, as a box, table or wall unfolds itself with a white blank expanse on it, of canvas or paper. A crescent moon looks on from the window.
Vanessa Brown is a Vancouver-based sculptor who has shown throughout North America and abroad. Her seemingly delicate painted cut-steel objects in this show are sometimes reminiscent of still-lives or pop-up books, while others stand against walls as a sort of totem pole or staff of power at rest. The still life works are made from a few pieces of painted steel which fit together at angles, giving them a dimensionality that varies widely depending on which direction they are viewed from and the light available. There are sometimes cut-out shapes and bends to the pieces, and they are afterward painted in a loose manner. These sculptures have a deceptive, playful delicacy to their appearance which belies their tough nature. Their rough-hewn fragility reminded me of feminine strength. A dreamlike mix of figurative elements plays between two and three dimensions in these works.
Cosmic Screen is a blue and black piece, whose title suggests the projection of reality and how reality descends dimensionally. The artwork’s title jives with its materiality and construction, as do the other pedestal-standing works, by turning flatness into three dimensions. It is a still life, and as such, it functions as an object of meditation by making us recall how life is stilled in death. The indigo screen conjures a priest’s confessional or a trip to Morocco, yet it is shaped like a mountain softened by time. A hand reaches for a bottle, but is it poison or potion? There is a distinct sense of the magical, the alchemist’s hand as the artist’s. Hands are a recurring theme for Brown. Her 2016 solo show, The Hand of Camille, presented recently in Vancouver, deals inventively with Camille Claudel, lover of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. We are also reminded of the famous Dada symbol of the pointing typographical hand, but here it is the gently grasping hand, also disembodied.
Thermochrome Steel is an object of pink and purple painted shapes. Dripping white dots form a polka dot pattern, the only bar or dash melts into drips and becomes a chalky crutch. Sun Milk is made of exquisitely delicate-looking white layers which look like paper but have the strength of steel.The artwork’s gorgeous play of light and shadow features numerous shades of white and grey depending on the way it is lit. Newspaper in Flight, a bold and stark work, is reminiscent of a Franz Kline painting with its aggressive, feathered brushstrokes of black on white.
Attic Light could be a totem pole of dream imagery, or a magician’s staff. It bears an orange, a hand, a window, a candle, a cloud and a fishhook. Another staff sculpture, Breakups, has smoking lips, the moon, a boot, a French manicured fingernail, a martini glass and an upside-down plant. Are these memories of a relationship? Or ways to cope with separation? Perhaps they are objects returned or overturned, thrown about. He is given the boot, and solace is taken in a book, a new lipstick, and a martini.
Vanessa Brown’s works here in The Far Away Blue Places feel like added clues in Anjuli Rathod’s paintings. Or part of Rathod’s paintings that got away, came to life, and populated the space, yet they also stand on their own as sophisticated works of abstraction in the strength of their form and sense of playfulness and paradox.