Stephané E Conradie & Elise Thompson: FIND / FUSE
January 26 through March 11, 2023
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, March 2023
In this attractive show, Elise Thompson, working in New York and Stephané Conradie, working in Cape Town, South Africa, are displaying, respectively, lyric abstract paintings and assemblages consisting of ornamental vases filled with assorted trivial objects. Both artists are young; the show bears the imprint of youth. Thompson was educated in Kentucky and Florida, and has been living in New York for three years. But her work is highly sophisticated in the city’s way. Her abstractions also incorporate sculptural elements. The paintings are layers of illustration board, dura-lar, and cut vinyl built into the frame, at 2.5 to 3 inches deep. Then a layer of marine vinyl is stretched like canvas on top which is also applied with acrylic medium. The planes of the work demonstrate considerable expressive feeling, the abstract imagery often suggests the long history of expressionism in the city, while not being taken over by that tradition in any way. As for Conradie, her selection of vases, ornamental through and through, are placed throughout the two rooms of the gallery. They are at once decorative statements and sculptures assemblages that do not so much mimic Thompson’s poetic as they assert the right of the artist to make things deliberately beautiful. Together, the two artists don't closely agree in outlook; yet their contrast results in a show that is at once compelling and challenging to their audience.
Thompson’s epiphanies are subtle. Her work demonstrates an intelligence beyond her years; she is in her thirties. Her paintings engage in a slightly veiled lyricism. In the attractive painting called Cover (2022), thick bands of horizontal color fill the vertically aligned composition. The top of the composition holds a band, with rounded edges, that suggests an organically shaped rectangle. On the lower edge of the picture’s plane, we see a golden mass, with slightly rounded edges, which mimics to some extent the white bar in the painting’s upper register. In between these two forms are masses of reddish black, which center the image. Inchoate masses fill both sides of the painting. This is a very good abstract painting, one in alignment with the New York School, but at the same time keeping its distance, remaining independent of excessive mimicry of the style.
Conradie’s art fits a general pattern: a tall, usually golden vessel shape acts as a support for the often decorative elements that stand or rest in containers at the top. These assemblages are unabashedly ornamental, yet they give something more; they become mode versions of horns of cornucopia, suggesting an affluence of things that are not necessarily about materialism alone. Given their ornate beauty, it becomes evident. In one work, a form much like a lamp fixture supports small glass elements held by a bowl. The exquisite forms of the animals act as a decorative top of the entire world which itself clearly embraces the decorative. In fact, Conradie’s work takes the decorative and makes something larger of it. Sometimes decoration can, by itself, assume the weight more so-called “important” art is assumed to have, especially if we refuse to make hierarchies of different kinds of art. In another piece, the vase is supported again by a brass figure that looks a lot like a lamp fixture. At the crown of the work, we see a reddish bowl holding a pile of transparent ice cubes, made either of plastic or glass. It is a piece whose seeming superficiality is quite a bit more than that, being a piece in which the artificial trumps notions of the traditionally beautiful. Both Thompson and Conradie share a devotion to art as both outward and inward communication. Inevitably, this is evidenced in all good art, and the two artists here have made it clear they are committed to such an outlook. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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