Toil and Trouble
Natsaha Bowdoin, Pam Chapman, Chie Fueki, Jackie Gendel,
Valerie Hegarty, Robyn O'Neil, Emilio Perez

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Magic only looks easy. To the uninitiated, some flashy gestures and fancy-sounding words are all you need. But any competent witch - from Macbeth's time to today - will tell you that a good spell takes time, effort, know-how and a few unholy bargains. The seven artists in Toil and Trouble each have their own particular mojo, but their work as a whole attests to the perils and rewards that come from looking into the abyss, channeling a certain amount of chaos and transforming it - through ritual, technique and no small amount of grief - into a glimpse of the supernatural.

If the typical portrait painting is a snapshot, then Jackie Gendel's portraits are entire novels. She treats both her paintings and the figures they contain as collaborators and free agents with their own postures, needs, foibles and baggage. A spill of paint here, a raised eyebrow there - both carry certain expectations, and both steer Gendel through the formal and psychological development of each painting. In this involved process of building a painting, Gendel superimposes, blends and obscures her subjects. A wash of paint might eclipse one figure only to take shape as a figure itself. With the set of an eyelash or a turn of mouth, an expression might slide from coy to frightened to calculating and back. The personalities that finally emerge contain the varieties and contradictions of human experience, the layered history of Gendel's process, and the history of painting as a whole.
Gendel lives and works in Brooklyn and is currently Artist in Residence at the University of Tennessee. She is represented by CTRL, Houston and Jeff Bailey Gallery, NYC.

History plays a much different role In Valerie Hegarty's work. In her mixed-media sculptures, paintings, drawings and installations the effect of passing time brings either growth and embellishment or decay, depending on the viewer's perspective. The subtlety and pleasure of her work is the tension between these two poles - intentional, controlled creation and simulated, organic disarray. In one new work, a classical bust from pre- eruption Pompeii is fused to mummified pigeons who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A 'live' pigeon perches on its ossified ancestors, awaiting the next disaster, implying an ever-expanding sculpture. Across the gallery, on the wall, simple geometric frames sprout knotty, flowering branches, or twist into conch shells. The final, funny reversal in her work is that Hegarty's musings on the impermanence of moments in human history are meticulously, delicately hand-made objects. They are fragile memorials to the happy futility of all memorials.
Hegarty lives and works in Brooklyn and is represented by Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, NYC.

Robyn O'Neil's drawings also pit man against nature, and it doesn't look good for man. On barren plains, over vast seas, under thick low clouds or off the edges of craggy mountaintops, regular dudes in sweatsuits run, dangle, float or fall, all with a dazed mixture of desperation and indifference. Absorbing influences ranging from Winslow Homer to 9th century French folklore, O'Neil has let her years-long epic follow its own course, embellishing and broadening her universe as she goes. We find her protagonists at the end or the beginning of time, in an immense fluid limbo without shelter or relief. O'Neil's world is huge, and scale is essential to her work. She builds her drawings with superfine mechanical pencil lines on what can feel like enormous sheets of paper, rendering a character's tiny features or a dark hulking thunderhead with equal grace and precision. The contrast of exacting detail and panoramic scope fills her landscapes with a hallucinatory grandeur and amplifies the sweep of her imagination.
O'Neil lives and works in Houston, TX. She is represented by Dunn and Brown Contemporary, Dallas, Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago, and Praz-Delavallade, Paris|Berlin.

Pamela Chapman's recent paintings stay literally closer to home - they chronicle sections of the riverbank where she goes walking - but maintain a sense of immensity, rapt attention and careful execution. Chapman finds seemingly unexceptional tracts of reedy water and looks straight down into the river, eliminating the horizon. Swirling, weightless reeds and ambiguous depths help undermine the usual moorings of scale and perspective, imbuing a chunk of shallow riverbed with the breadth and drama of outer space. Chapman's attention to every detail of the river and her refusal to generalize paradoxically emphasize the formal lyricism of her surfaces. A glinting strand of ribbon, a web of oil on the water's surface, or the incongruous smiley-face logo of a plastic bag embody the urban river in all its banality and beauty.
Chapman lives and works in Philadelphia, PA and teaches painting at Tyler School of Art. She is represented by CTRL, Houston.

The natural world isn't usually Natasha Bowdoin's overt subject, but its principles and spirit seem to govern the way her work develops in its making. Starting with an excerpt of text, a totem, a gesture, or all three at once, Bowdoin's drawings grow instinctively, sprawling across a wall or tightening into a thicket of words and imagery. Bowdoin often cuts out and layers her drawings, replacing the original legibility of her source material with a more intuitive reading. Wisps of text and other references - old botany illustrations, fables, masks, deep sea life - churn in shifting, volatile patterns. With the obsessive rhythm of an incantation Bowdoin manipulates, stresses and finally surpasses language in her attempts to conjure presences too old or too wild to be circumscribed by it.
Bowdoin lives and works in Houston, TX and is currently a second year fellow of the CORE residency at the Museum of Fine Arts. She is represented by Extraspazio Gallery, Rome.

Obsessive mark-making is central to Chie Fueki's process as well, though it's a finessed and witty obsessiveness. Fueki embellishes every inch of her paintings with shimmering fields of miniscule paint dots, and the resulting hypnotic surfaces transform more conventional anxiety into trance-like absorption. The technique is unabashedly pretty but clearly demanding, and Fueki's intentionally grandiose subject matter - love, gender, death and passion - are both undercut and reinforced by her ministrations. It's hard to be awed by a memento mori that's so appealingly opulent, but the obvious labor and care the artist devotes to her subjects is infectious, and reinvests her motifs with a smart sincerity that's neither mawkish nor cynical.
Fueki lives and works in Brooklyn and Westchester, PA. She is represented by Mary Boone Gallery, NYC and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, LA.

Emilio Perez's own lustrous, painstaking surfaces belie the tumult and velocity of his imagery. Made by slicing away layers of dried paint, Perez's lines have the sharp-edged pop of comic-book illustration, but are far too restless to ever settle into discernible forms. Instead, Perez uses his characteristic calligraphy to warp space and geometry, twisting perspective lines into deep vortices or ballooning explosions. He seems to be drawing a world moving at the speed of light in which the familiar is stretched and distorted beyond recognition, all according to elegant but arcane physical laws.
Perez lives and works in Brooklyn and is represented by Galerie Lelong, NYC.