September 4 - 30, 2012
Monochrome canvases aren't the most thrilling sight in Maaike Schoorel's latest solo exhibition with East London pioneer Maureen Paley. In fact, it's seeing the reactions of the laziest viewers when they discover the richness that those canvases had all along: they have to work in order to see. An array of black and white steadily unfolds into intimate still life portraits shimmering with royal blues, muted oranges, dense browns and golds. One work, in particular, uses gold leaf as a base material. The clarity and discipline of Schoorel's draftsmanship is only available to those who not only work to see, but choose to. The 38 year-old Schoorel (born in The Netherlands, now living and working in New York) somehow reintroduces the act of looking at art as one which demands as much discipline and respect as does its own production process.
The canvases, at first, reveal only ethereal strokes of still life from the Northern Renaissance. Upon closer observation, intricate levels of paint rise to the tangible surface. With this painstaking technique, Schoorel presents an alternative mode of vision: one meant to significantly slow the rate at which the eye perceives each sector of the painting. The ghostly forms have become increasingly vivid over the course of her expanding practice, a larger aperture opens to the inferences within the delicate vases, the upright floral arrangements and the lush fabrics draping the scenes. Communicating with a language similar to a photographic negative, Schoorel's presents lost or marginalized historical narratives in the sharpest shades of light and shadow. Her familiarity with enduring visual concepts such as memento mori, chiaroscuro and the late 17th century's fetish of verisimilitude is deep and well-nourished. The work is decidedly of a European school, but standing in front of Schoorel's work isn't an exercise in national or cultural identities; on the contrary, she purposefully blurs presupposed notions of class, gender, creed and antiquated aesthetic principles. Seemingly, the closer the artist edges to physical nothingness, the closer she comes to the inherent purity of the objects and subjects she renders.
There are echoes of Kant's manifestation of the natural sublime in this work (with its overt reliance on Christian pedagogy and extra-cultural anxieties excluded) as Schoorel brings her audience to a razor-thin precipice of the 'routine' act of observation. She reignites this process in illuminating that which appears fragile, but whose essence endures long after the elements have exacted their price. The places where cognitive knowledge fail and descriptive powers fall short are captured in three dimensional space, in layer upon layer of finely executed gradients.
Schoorel effectively walks the line between vision and imagination. Where the 'real' fades into sheer being and when the image dissolves into sight, itself, she accesses those traces lingering in the space between. There are no overt symbolisms or blaring advertisements in her messages. This oeuvre reinstates subtlety and context as guiding principles of both production and reception. Even more gratifying is Schoorel's steadfast commitment to the evolution of the image, rather than dictating its content or meaning.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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