Sunday, April 27, 2008
Eric Gelber on Kelli Williams
Kelli Williams, Wet Bar, 2007
I posted Kelli Williams' painting, along with work by some other Leo Koenig artists, after seeing it at the Armory Show last month. Eric Gelber contributed so many thoughtful comments on Kelli's painting, too much to leave buried in the comments box... so I'm re-posting them here.
MUST STRESS - this is a series of thoughtful comments on a jpeg, not a formal review. Eric did not see the work in person. Eric's initial response was to an anonymous commenter critical of the accuracy of Kelli's perspective.
There is no consistent perspectival moment if the composition is looked at as a whole. It would destroy the logic of the composition if the artist used one vanishing point to bring coherence to the whole. The artist wants to fragment and compartmentalize space. This increases the isolation of each figure and each action. It is like a tableau. Within each individual segment the local space makes sense, a field that immediately surrounds each figure. A figure sits on the edge of the pool, another one sits on a bar stool, another one is resting her hand on the edge of the bar. This compositional technique emphasizes the isolation of each figure. They are self contained monads, pleasuring and obsessively gorging themselves. It is a symbolic ode to masturbation and self indulgence.The artist is using a panoramic device. The separate little worlds the figures inhabit are interlocked to form an odd montage image.
Each figure in Kelli's painting is going through an internal process. The figures that are gorging themselves are perhaps meant to represent self destructive behavior or the compulsions/impractical rituals that plague individuals. The other figures are lost in their minds or bodies.
They writhe, stare into space. The bartender is the only figure that directly addresses the viewer and the rest of the figures do not acknowledge one another or the viewer. Figures are whole and fragmented. Some of them are asleep, one looks pregnant. They are practicing mysterious rituals.
The variety of poses suggest stages of life. There is a variety of mental states represented in this one painting. (The figures are wonderfully rendered.) They have a corpse like palor though and this again suggests death.
Also the one male figure in the painting is the bartender, the one who serves intoxicants, and he holds a trident like the Greek god Poseidon. Obviously this references pagan culture, but in the setting of a bar/contemporary swimming pool this is humorous, but also a clue as to what the artist wants to tell us about contemporary life.
The bar itself looks pixilated, like it is made from binary code on a computer monitor, and the painting does very interesting things with ideas of flatness and depth. There is no easy way to figure out the pictorial space.
Lingering thoughts about "Wet Bar":
Poseidon, and his underwater realm, is one of the subjects of this painting. The greenish figures are supposed to be underwater. The figure seated at the bar, with her bosom, shoulders, and head and neck above water give this away. Here lower half is submerged and most of her upper torso, which is flesh colored, is above the water line. So the watery depths represent the human unconscious, but interestingly, the figures above the water line are just as transfixed as the figures that are submerged in the water.
The strange entrail/snake like coils that come out of the vaginas of two of the figures are strange, ambiguous symbols. The woman who is suckling or drinking from the end of one of the umbilical cords/green ropes is either slowly becoming colored or her mid-section is evaporating. She comforts/pleasures herself by grasping a handful of her own hair. The idea that a woman's umbilical cord could be used for self nourishment is an interesting idea. The underwater flora and fauna and various sea creatures, rendered carefully and realistically is a very nice touch, as are the air bubbles floating towards the surface.
So there is the clear portrayal of two distinct realms, above and below water. The figures are lost in strange reveries. Poseidon addresses and identifies with the viewer (while sporting a small boner). But instead of ruling over the female figures he is serving them. Human ritual, human ecstasy, orgiastic pagan ceremonies, feminist recontextualization of female nudity and sexuality, human transformation. The female figures below the water have transformed into mermaids or are in the middle of doing so. After they become mermaids they fall into a coma like sleep. So the transformation from human to mythical half human/half animal creature is also a subject of this painting. What are the psychological implications of this transformation? The painting style and formal devices employed by the artist fully enhance the idea content of the painting.
I like the way the painting morphs and blends the textures of digital imagery and classic mosaics. It straddles the two really, which emphasizes your recontextualization of pagan and mythological imagery. One should also note the play on words in the title. A wet bar is a place in the home where you can mix drinks, and it usually contains a sink with running water. We all obviously know about vaginas and wetness. The painting is all about mixing realms, the real and the mythic, flatness and depth. It has great mystery and that is hard to find in contemporary work.
See all of Eric Gelber's reviews for Artcritical here.