Jane Corrigan: Of the Air
September 4 - October 12, 2019
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, September 2019
“Y'know the real world, this so-called the real world,
Is just something you put up with, like everybody else.
I'm in my element when I am a little bit out of this world:
then I'm in the real world -- I'm on the beam.
Because when I'm falling, I'm doing all right;
When I'm slipping, I say, hey, this is interesting!
It's when I'm standing upright that bothers me:
I'm not doing so good; I'm stiff.
As a matter of fact, I'm really slipping, most of the time,
into that glimpse. I'm like a slipping glimpser.”
- Willem de Kooning, Quote from film script Sketchbook 1, Time Inc; 1960.
Jane Corrigan’s first solo exhibition at this gallery is something of a showstopper. Her mostly female-character driven images are alluringly schematic yet painterly in mien. She’s very experimental and the expanded repertoire of her new iconography– which now includes dogs, bones, sticks, LPs, so forth -- is enticing.
The Canadian-born, New York-based painter foregrounds fictional personages and situations in the midst of arresting narratives that seem cropped from cinematic storyboards. Her work has been likened to a sort of comic book Impressionism and the truth of this comes across clear as rock crystal. She is an ardent feminist and her treatment of her female protagonists – making their way with determination and autonomy through the world – is uplifting and very, very deft. Her staccato paint application suggests an inordinate fluidity in her compositions, and they hold us effortlessly in their grasp.
Corrigan is a draughtsperson of consequence. The artist fully explores her chosen subjects through myriad drawings and oil studies and a number of studies and sketches on display in the central space confirm this. Clearly, she is equally at ease whether on paper or canvas. The works on paper here are real treasures, full of tiny pleasurable details and the hard-won truths of her practice.
There is a whiff of Soutine here and a whisper of Louisa Matthíasdóttir, the noted Icelandic-American painter, there. I also felt tremors and rumours of Dana Schutz’s hectic transmogrifications and Janet’s Werner’s spooky distortions, Marie Laurencin’s phenomenal delicacy and Bonnard’s loving diaphanous interiors of his wife. All these and more are collapsed vertically without any discernible quotations into narratives that juggle domestic interiors and exterior scenes with admirable skill and moxy. What remains with us is her great love of paint and painting, process and resolution.
Corrigan is a painter who demonstrates a certain empathy for her subjects. Those characters are entirely unselfconscious even in situations that are inherently volatile and full of risk. She is a hugely empathetic painter who depicts her creatures without judgement but always with consummate respect and understanding.
Her faces are mostly schematic and her allegories open-ended. What emerges most prominently is a sidereal evocation of the several life worlds of these women. They seem caught unawares as they wander through the world. The welcoming signpost into these imagined scenes is, of course, Corrigan’s wherewithal with the paint.
That she is an artful scavenger is also clear. She often imports biblical and mythological symbols as punctuation and punctum. In one painting, a bird on the horizon has a snake dangling from its mouth. Excerpts from an imagined Garden of Eden are parachuted in with alacrity and other latter-day Edenic interiors – like Elvis Lives, (2019, oil on canvas, 114.5 x 147.5 cm., 45 x 58") with two girls idyllically choosing LPs from their record collection and playing them on the stereo at home – provide winsome and diverting subplots.
These paintings are littered with puncti not only in terms of creatures like the serpent but in her chromatic toolbox as well – a dollop of red, a smidgeon of brown, a liberal helping of blue, a bare rumour of yellow. These chromatic integers activate the painted space like little beacons of painterly pride and rectitude, spirit and vigour.
In looking close at Corrigan’s paintings, what seems painted at a breakneck pace at least in one sense never looks hurried or slapdash. The fluency of her paint handling best advertises the casual authority of the artist’s hand.
Corrigan’s alla prima (wet-into-wet) technique has passed beyond mastery here. She seems a natural at layering wet on wet paint and she does make it seem effortless. But we should remember that this technique requires perfect timing and consequential stamina and Corrigan has both. Using wet-into-wet, she conjures all manner of ephemeral possible worlds.
In canvases like Fallen, 2019, oil on canvas, 91 x 78 cm (36 x 31"); Summer's Eve and Scraps, 2019, oil on canvas, 147.5 x 205.5 cm (58 x 81") and, most notably,) and the aforementioned Elvis Lives, Corrigan conjures an oneiric space is which her subjects are heedless of inspection (but not introspection) and pursue their idylls and encounters with daring and determination.
This show demonstrated the artist’s facility in works both large and small. The large paintings are like proscenium stages for open theatres into which we can project and inhabit the painting space. The many small paintings in the show are inordinately tasty and even lush, and we periscope into them with alacrity as well so that we can appreciate something of the unbridled hedonism of her endeavour.
Corrigan has a penchant for adding minute details to the paintings that are slightly ‘off’. This is a sort of insider’s nod to the surreality latent in experienced things. Life is like that: full of odd tangential bits. She lifts them just barely out of latency to deepen our understanding and respect for their inclusion and hence her project as a whole.
Corrigan employs light parody and quirky wit when needed, and her narratives brilliantly dismantle and remake some cherished orthodoxies, with nary a backward glance at the history of male-dominated painting (Willem de Kooning included).
Still, de Kooning once spoke eloquently of being a “slipping glimpser”. I think that Corrigan is also a painter happy to “slip into the glimpse” at a moment’s notice. It is precisely in her slippages, where something of her gift resides. Her deft and crisp imagery is often so weightless in its mien that it might be lifted off the canvas at a moment’s notice by a wind and borne off to even more exotic worlds of her embodied imagination. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.