Brian Alfred article on Jo Baer for Painters on Painting.
Your Good Taste is Showing
Robin F. Williams at PPOW Gallery
October 12 - November 11, 2017
Our country recently had an opportunity to elect the first woman President of the United States. Instead, elected was a man who’s tagline was nothing short of an embracement of aggravated assault on women. This aggressive bravado has been around for a long time, yet recently with the more public call for equal rights and gender equality and gender freedom, it seems as though the backlash is poking it’s head out of it’s dark hole further than normal. Robin Williams’ paintings hold an aggressive and confident stance against the roles that have been defined for women in our society. In her paintings there is a great confidence in the deft, and seemingly endless, tactical approach she takes with paint handling. Be it thick paint, airbrush, scumbling, trump l’oil, gradient or the many other skillful and effective ways she applies her paint, the paintings aren't screaming technique but the multilateral approach combines to create a forceful and determined image.
The women in Williams’ paintings find themselves bending, contorting and posing in ways that magnify the inanity of expectations women are held to. In the painting “Your Good Taste Is Showing”, the stylized eroticism of what could be a vintage cigarette ad takes on a Balthusian pose replacing an adolescent with an ‘exotic’ model so determined she is smoking two cigarettes at once.
In ‘Nude Waiting It Out’, a nude blonde waits docile by the side of a window passing the time by making steam drawn lines in the window assumedly counting the days her partner has been gone. The absurdity of the idea of a woman waiting nude for someone to return is so replete with faux desire that the image becomes a tacit mocking of the expectations of a woman’s desire. In other paintings like ‘Burn’, it becomes clear that the figure, who spent far to long tanning resulting in a sunburn that has become rough texture in the painting, is pushing herself to her own death. Looking good is killing her and this is only magnified by the cigarette she’s smoking and the headstone she is awkwardly resting on. There is a real pain and struggle with these figures trying to meet standards of desire, allure and femininity.
In ‘Sunday Player’, a Gaugin-esque woman sits across from the viewer on a picnic blanket in a short skirt revealing the fact she’s not wearing underwear. She holds the cards and the true reveal is that the real game is of seduction, power and desire. Through these skilled and pointed paintings, Williams’ is showing that she holds the upper hand.
There seems to be a relentless forfeit to the way certain things seem to go in today’s society. And one who cares about the status quo may find themselves relegated to personal acts of protest served with an underlying feeling that they may not be able to turn the tide. Yet there is something to be valued in the gesture. One could also make the argument that picking up a paintbrush and making a picture carries a similar opportunity for a voice to be heard yet only to be drowned out by the cacophony of visual noise that bombards us each day.
This bipolar dynamic can be found in the title of Rochelle Feinstein’s recent show, Who Cares, (not Who Cares?).
Feinstein has historically used the visual language of abstraction in her work as a tool to address specific ideas and issues. In Who Cares, she does with a particularly keen play on the duality of words, ideas, values and images. Off Color, a sort of color wheel gone awry, plays with the expectations of perfection and instruction. The very elements of play and creativity that tweak the structure and order of the color wheel simultaneously purport clumsiness and revolt. Color Therapy seems to take a more expressive approach to interplay of color. The frenetic struggle and push in the painting both mimics and mocks the idea of painting as therapy.
A curtain covered with text called Ear to the Ground splits the space. The hanging fabric is emblazoned in phrases, expressions and quips collected by the artist. The din of multiple expressions seems to block a clear voice just as the scrim blocks the viewer from a free traversing of the gallery space. These dualities seem to confuse and liberate all at the same time. The most exemplary of this duality is found in the titular paintings that consist of a full color gestural abstraction and a colorless reproduction of the same gestural abstraction. Question asked, if the color is removed, if the image is repeated, is the gesture removed? And who cares if it is? Are we not left with the gesture of the painting itself?
Under the guise of sarcasm, one offs, and tongue in cheek, Feinstein’s work reveals an earnestness for the human condition, for our state of our society, for a connection with history with a deft dance with the complex history of the way images are made and their relationship to the way images are read today. Ultimately, in her work, we find out who cares about art and it’s relationship to life.