A Firecracker of Essence and Distillation Print
Art - Reviews
Written by Steve Banks   
Tuesday, 14 March 2006 18:00
The current solo show by Emily Christensen is a little visual firecracker that delivers a bang that will leave your eyes happily ringing long after you see the work. The show is tucked away on the second floor of Bucktown Center for the Arts in the doe Gallery and is up through March 25. It is a relatively small and cohesive show with only about a dozen pieces, but they enthusiastically pop where it counts.

Most of the works within the show are rooted in observation of the effects within the atmosphere as the light begins to describe the landscape. The artist adds an intuitive, if not visceral, translation of this sensation through oil paint on the canvas. The careful crafting of tones and undulating spacial relations gives Christensen’s work a satisfying visual bang.

In Reflected Shadows, Christensen has captured a lake at that luminous time around dawn as individual colors erupt out of the bluish-gray void, and when the atmosphere is charged with soft light and diffused energy. She has divided the picture plane roughly a third of the way from the top with a strong horizon line scraped into the paint and reinforced in areas with yellow. The action plays out along the line with cobalt and pale brownish-green slashing bush and reed-like elements projecting upward into the airy sky and reflected downward into the off-white lake.

Although the carved horizon cuts across many of the forms and colors, it is subdued by the fact that some of the blue vegetation is painted on top of it. This over-layering of paint succeeds in transforming the horizon line from an aggressive wound incised across the surface to a drawn element that finds its own place in the visual space.

Christensen has allowed some of the thickly painted vegetation masses to inquisitively drip into the lake, formed from comparatively thinly washed whites and duns. This attention to the physical qualities of the paint gives the relatively small swath of dark land a comparable visual weight to the large expanse of luminous water.

Directly above Reflected Shadows is the smaller companion piece Island Reflection. There are many of the same visual dynamics being repeated here, but the large expanse of water below the dense strip of land has essentially been flipped to become a large expanse of sky. While more choppy, reed-like elements have been added to the thick and textured cerulean landmass, the important difference between the two pieces comes in how the sky is rendered in paint versus the water.

In Reflected Shadows, the whitish patch of water had some visible brushmarks and a few lightly drawn playful linear elements mimicking the flight paths of buzzing insects darting over the water. In Island Reflection, the whitish mass of sky has numerous directional brushstrokes that give form and life to clouds as though they are receding into the distance and an atmosphere simmering with energy. Even with nearly identical color palettes, the different uses of brush stroke effectively describe the difference between surface and space.

The larger vertical piece Sunrising is a dialogue between color masses. The top half is dominated by a pre-dawn aqua-green square resting above a violet horizon line. The area below the horizon line contains an orange/ochre horizontal rectangle inside a larger patch of color that is similar to the top half, all above a rectangular abyss of dark violet. Sunrising captures that sensation of witnessing dawn slowly pull the land out of the shapeless dark and into perceivable detail.

In Sunrising, Christensen’s work draws comparisons to the Minimalist work of Russian-born artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Rothko’s work is typically associated with large, flatly painted squares of color seemingly floating on the surface of the canvas. On first inspection Christensen seems to be exploring similar territory. However, Rothko’s work is typically painted flatly, almost spartan in how little paint actually resides on the surface, whereas Christensen’s surface has thicker application of paint, surface texture, and in some places a glossy sheen. These works are more Rothko-inspired than Rothko-derived.

All three of these pieces (as well as many others) contain reference to the landscape. However, they are arguably more about light and atmosphere. Christensen utilizes the landscape as a vehicle to explore the moods and feeling of light, much like the cookie is the (tasty) vehicle for the chocolate chips. While this show is few in works, it over-delivers in quality.