Jeanie Riddle Open Letter To The Women

Jeanie Riddle, Apartment Living, 2017 - 2018, Bois, acrylique sur toile / Wood, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 48 x 20.5 cm (18.5 x 19 x 8"), courtesy of Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal, Quebec

Jeanie Riddle
Open Letter To The Women
Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran
January 10 -- February 10


In this, Riddle‘s third solo exhibition at the gallery, titled Open Letter To The Women, she offers a heady mix of installations and paintings. In recent years, the artist has moved strongly into object installations that are shown adjacent to her paintings to exhilarating effect. The sculptures are unorthodox and grow out of her inventory of painted work.

The paintings are like semaphores for other paintings that have now disappeared into those elegantly folded configurations. Consider Apartment Living, 2017 - 2018, wood and acrylic on canvas, 47 x 48 x 20.5 cm (18.5 x 19 x 8"). In both cases, the work is refreshingly new and unsullied.

The paintings proper have a visual punch, palette and sinuous appeal that is almost poster-like in mien, and remind us specifically of posters for California concerts in the 1970s: for example, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane at The Fillmore in 1966, the Mothers of Invention at Winterland in 1969 and Kaleidoscope and Mother Earth and Country Weather at the Avalon Ballroom in1968, to name just a few of the many that come to mind. In this respect, Open Letter to the Women, (2017, acrylic on canvas, 167.5 x 122 cm (66 x 48"), is a standout. The paintings further reference those posters found today in schools and gyms, or at rallies or demonstrations. They are fresh, punchy – and entirely unforeseen. 

The folding, piling and draping of canvases is a daring move on Riddle’s part that also reads less as evolutionary ploy than as wholly necessary on her part. She is pushing her formal language into promising new terrain, following a teleology deeply embedded in her work and her way of thinking about that work. These ‘picto-sculptures’ are transgressive assemblages that irremediably wed painting and sculpture -- and become something more. This is the case with works like There Are Many Things That Are Blue (2017, acrylic on canvas, metal, latex, 30.5 x 49.5 x 44.5 cm (12 x 19.5 x 17.5"). The canvases that are folded like linen garments on laundry washstands speak of surfaces of painting withheld – a whole acreage here neatly elided -- and are objects that resonate outside art, in the domain of real materials and lived domesticity. This elision or collision between the folded and the stretched is fertile and draws a potent radius across a spectrum of possibilities seldom heretofore explored. The folded paintings and the stretched paintings generate in tandem an environmental installation that incarnates the sheer unadulterated bliss of being alive.

Installation view, 2018, Jeanie Riddle Open Letter To The Women

Similarly, Riddle’s love of retro or vintage furniture shines through in the modest but entirely winning receptacles on which paintings and paint skins and pigment taches are presented or in which they are housed. Like freshly cleaned garments on laundry day, painting’s integuments are laid out to dry, then pressed and folded. If this work draws on the domestic, it also opens up a dimension of the tactual that is startling in its seductive immediacy. One wants to reach out and feel the skin of the folded paintings against one’s fingertips, which have all the semblance of flattened and kneadable silly putty. As the folded paintings age, the folds will remain, and thus any attempt to unfold them would be, of course, ill advised. The exhibition is a dimensionally tactual environment that draws in an innately voluptuous optic, and one that is directed on its meandering circuit through the exhibition rooms as though on a scavenger hunt.

Installation view, 2018, Jeanie Riddle Open Letter To The Women, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran

In the exhibition’s smaller room, Riddle essays a sort of litany of possibles. She offers an inventory of small folded paintings and paintskins like facecloths stacked neatly in a vertical tray in Regularly Organized (2017, metal, latex, polymer clay, 15 x 37 x 15 cm (6 x 14.5 x 6"). Other paintings are folded or stacked on what have the semblance of towel holders, paint skins settle on plinths, taches on what would pass as a message board. This encounter between the painted element and the architectural element is a very savvy dialogue that evokes, above all, an idea of home. Here is the full platter, but there is nothing finicky or overcrowded about the state of the show as a whole. The artist was an accomplished installer and prep person in a former life and it shows. The installation has a simple, selfless serenity that speaks not of the weight of objects but of their semaphore- like status. 

Riddle says in a statement accompanying the show: “Open Letter To The Women is a constructed loving thank you to the determination of the female. It expresses gratitude to the persons that interfere and perform an othering of gender and disrupt the status quo. It is an experience of pleasure within this moment of tension and tilting where political distrust and raised voices speak to the personal and, like the mandate of a second wave feminism, inform identity as political.” The redeeming quality of the light in these works betrays a tenderness and kindness on the artist’s part, a healing order of critique. 

Jeanie Riddle has always been preoccupied with a material reflection on line, contour and pictorial surface, and she pushes all these as she freely improvises. I have called this exhibition a “full platter” but the truth is that it is less robust and abundant than lean and spare in tenor -- its clean lines and vivid chroma summoning up a sense of purification and distillation of the many possibilities that painting and sculpture still harbour for this artist as the promise of making, intuition, discovery. 

But this is no idyll of domestic bliss. This is the spirit of female industry at its most hectic and refined. This is an expression of the hard, unending, enduring work of women finding a place, building a home and defining an environment.  Riddle makes abstract paintings that celebrate womanhood and issue a loud exclamation against mute solipsism in favour of dialogue, openness, pure immanence and mensurable embrace. Her time is now.WM


James D. Campbell

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.

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