That's Just Fine
Susan Jane Walp at Tibor de Nagy
The still life has long been relegated to the lowest tier of the art historical hierarchy, and on the Lower East Side, where plush hanging sculptures (like those at Kristen Lorello) jostle alongside sand cast canvases (like Lisha Bai’s at Klaus von Nichtssagend), it might seem that there still is no room for the still life.
This excellent show of Susan Jane Walp’s recent work at Tibor de Nagy, however, begs to differ. A series of fifteen paintings, all made since 2014, depict simple stacks of everyday objects, always with something round––a grapefruit, a footed bowl of figs, an empty piece of porcelain–– at their centers. Their palette of muted greens and grays suggest an overcast day and no rush to get anywhere. So spare and deliberate are these works that they betray more than the daily breakfast of the painter, but a full and quiet life.
By limiting herself to the same small canvas, Walp has developed not merely individual works of accomplishment, but an exhibition which reads as a melancholic, but tender series of patterning, which calls attention to the ways in which we see repetition in form. The thin celadon lip of an empty bowl, the abstracted paisley segments of a pomelo, the ombre of green at the center of a cantaloupe, and––connecting them all––gridded guidelines, show us the undergirding of painting structured by proportion.
A repetitive use of a foreshortened knife, not always done with elegance, in my imagination is a joke on the part of the painter, a poking of fun at the common motif seen in Dutch still life painting, in which a painter would include such virtuosic details as a testament to his or her talents with the brush. The fact that in some of these paintings the knives jut precariously towards the viewer, or else lie parallel to the canvas’s edge with no attempt at flourish to be seen, lends this artist humor and, by extension, humility. “I’m not trying to do anything fancy here,” she seems to say. “And that’s just fine.”
If verisimilitude is not the aim (which, with the canvases’ texture showing through layers of paint, is certainly the case), then perhaps we are in pursuit of a feeling, though a feeling that never approaches the monumental. There may be nothing profound about these paintings, but frankly “just fine” is more than enough.
Tibor de Nagy
Until April 14, 2019