Out on a Limb
Out on a Limb
at Gallery 360
3011 West 50th Street, Mpls, MN 55410
through July 22nd.
I suddenly have a feeling of being underwater. Not drowning, but rather viewing the world around me through a buoyant and effortless state of intrigue. I feel very much like one of these female figures perched atop a floating, hollow globe as ships drift behind her, or the girl notching lines on the horizon amid a maze of bees, horses, and dots meandering around her head. I’m weightless and wondering. I’m part of the story now.
The paintings in Minneapolis artist Jennifer Davis’ new show Out on a Limb, appearing at Gallery 360 through July 22nd, infer a very illustrative quality, an almost undeniable narrative coherence. They resemble a sequence of still shots from some surrealistic mental journey. The pieces are abundant with feminine and nautical imageryâ€”skirts, flowers, flowers on skirts, felines, riverboats, rowboats, and in Sailor, a girl whose skirt forms the folds of her ship’s sails. This particular piece exhibits Davis’ deftness at blending images and moods; at once sweeping and compact, this delicate yet sturdy vessel seems to weave the currents of the visual plot unfolding before me. The brilliance that occurs to me, which I’m willing to bet Davis intends, is the notion that it’s up to me to create in my own imagination the ending to this tale. Clever.
I see elements of Henry Darger’s art in Davis’ works. The fanciful, fairy-tale quality of his Realms of the Unreal curtails smoothly with the narrative overtones of these pieces. Davis admits to seeing elements of “Darger-ish” methods in her work, such as image transfers, tracing, and manipulation of found images. Davis pulls from a vast personal library of scraps and materials when mixing media in her paintings. Amazingly, she completes these pieces usually in one sitting, often one a day and scarcely revisiting her work. Similar to Darger who ostensibly produced his art out of personal impulse, Davis states, “For me [painting] is like and addiction, an obsession. When a painting feels finished it is a high. That lasts for the day and then I want to do it again the next day.” Looking at this exhibition I can begin to sense that almost desperate need to create.
But I want more. Davis tends to display a very palatable economy of expression in her paintings. At moments the viewer’s attention lingers too long on the cute, story book quality of these pieces. Perhaps this gentle aesthetic is necessary to propagate the narrative tones of her work, yet I can’t help but wonder how this narrative quality would be affected by going larger, bolder, more adventurous. A conscious divergence from the highly digestible, technical precision of these pieces would enrich the variety of impressions and ideas the viewer already receives from these paintingsâ€”an evolution I find myself wishing had already happened.
Both Davis and her contemporaries at Gallery 360 have already said that she is trying to move away from collage and mixed media work to focus more on drawing and painting, which means the pieces must no longer adhere to the smaller scales that media from magazines and minute clippings require, and could be bigger and more expressive. This is what I instinctively expect to see: more works like Pomp, which showcase not only Davis’ mastery of brush and pencil strokes, but more importantly her ability to fill a bigger scale (even if it means spending more time on each painting.) I want more of the impact such pieces offerâ€”that conscientious bravado which announces a portentous new talent to the viewer’s eyes. These figures are eloquent, ridiculous, and most of all, big. Such a painting comes as a relief to the similitude of her works as a collection; it shuffles the sometimes monotonous repetition of themes and varies the small, almost kitschy, story book aesthetic of her pieces. It forms not only a relief, but creates a much needed diversification of the narrative architecture to Davis’ work.
As it stands, the visual plot these paintings weave is enticing, but the developments in her art yet to come leave the tale unfinished, especially in my own imagination. So let’s keep reading then, shall we?