Friday, May 19, 2017

Emily Rapport at Firecat Projects

"Damen Avenue Nocturne"

Not every Chicago neighborhood is wealthy and trendy, but quite a few are well kept and pleasant, even if the modest homes are so close that you can’t see one without seeing its neighbors.   They stay that way because owners care for them.  This show celebrates that older architecture and the middle income people who inhabit and maintain it.  You might call it a rebirth of Regionalism that combines a love of community with a love of paint and European pictorial space.  In equal proportions.

Centered on the exterior– the public side – of a building,  there is an emphasis on things as made not worn. Each scene is an upbeat arrangement of discrete elements:  architectural, arboreal, and painterly.   There are no dings or broken glass in the cars or houses – even if the city has marked an abandoned building with a “Red X” to caution firefighters.  A “Wilson Avenue teardown” has been so cheerfully painted in its funky decrepitude, it’s hard to imagine that a replacement could look any better.  It’s also hard to imagine that this 12-inch square painting could be any more delicious with its flamboyant manipulations of thick paint worked with both ends of the brush.   “Damen Avenue Nocturne” hangs beside it and is twenty times larger.   Surface details are not as tasty, but at a distance, you can appreciate how it’s been cleverly split by a telephone pole in the foreground, effectively creating two distinct,  complementary  views.  There is much to see on both sides as the artist, as always, gives equal focus to foreground, middleground, and background.   The curious eye is led down every passageway and into every nook and cranny. 

In four separate paintings, variations on the same house document its stages of repair.  The differing details in the adjacent buildings and background reveal how much the artist is inventing.  She may begin with reality as it appears, but soon the painting begins to drive itself,  establishing its own mood in response to the season and time of day. Given the basic structure of the buildings – everything else is invented:  the size of the windows, the surrounding foliage,  the color, etc.  Receding perspective lines are bent at will. The final effect is that the energy of each painting is deep inside.   What you see are the ripples left on the surface.

There’s a sense that making art is not far removed from repairing buildings.  Both artists and building trades have inspired her.  In apparent homage to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”, Rapport offers the glowing white austerity of an “Urban Farmhouse”.  In apparent homage to Charles Burchfield,   the convoluted  branches of surrounding trees give an eccentric personality to a “Cottage House”.  In a salute to city workers,  “Streets and San: Building a New Chicago” shows a work crew digging beneath city streets after sunset.

There is, of course, much more to Chicago than its middle class neighborhoods.  There is a luxury condo building boom near the lake while many other neighborhoods suffer from crime, poverty, and neglect.  The city continues to stratify.  But the future of urban life, as well as the American art that enhances it, lies with the sustainability of its middle class.   Emily Rapport is making a worthy contribution to its psychic health.


 Cottage House

Summer's  End  .... and ... Ground Work

Urban Farm House


Wilson Avenue Tear  Down

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