By Erik Davis-Heim
Gina Beaver’s work in Le Sigh consists of fifteen medium sized paintings depicting a variety of subject matter pulled from a range of sources. Nearly all of the work is representational, but also references abstraction and painting’s dual status as object and image. These paintings are images of bodies and things that question what it means to be a painting of a body or thing. The paintings all utilize chunky impasto to create literal reliefs of what they depict, further conflating the relation of image and object.
Gina’s work is clearly concerned with amateur painting; it convincingly apes the style of an untrained painter, and knowingly fetishizes aspects of an amateur aesthetic. The paint handling is uniformly clumsy, but in an overworked fashion rather than a haphazard one. Forms are over described, with hard edges created by repeatedly retreading the same path with the brush. The plastic build-up of paint to make objects pop off the canvas has a directness reminiscent of a casual painter earnestly trying to force verisimilitude onto their painting. This idea is checked by the three paintings of cheap portable paint/palette sets, turning this ubiquitous tool of Sunday Painters into a kind of icon.
The term she uses in her artist statement, “Coffee Shop Art”, is probably the best way to describe the specific kind of amateur painting this work is concerned with. The clumsy but consistent style of the paintings is more reminiscent of a self-taught working artist with a long-term investment in painting than someone who just paints recreationally. The subject matter of a number of the paintings seems appropriate for a café as well: Pendent, Tree Woman, and Shower Curtain all have a kind of domestic new age quality that wouldn’t look out of place in a Starbucks. They’re all scaled to fit in a venue without dedicated gallery space. They’re not small, but none of them are so large that they couldn’t fit on a wall lined with chairs and tables.
The other major motif of the show is the human body, both in terms of how mass media presents it, and how painting can represent it. 6-Pack, Clash Of The Titans and the painting of a poster of Muammar Gaddafi all reference found imagery and mythology of the body created for mass culture. In most of the paintings the body is shown as life size, and is either cropped or contorted to fit into dictated scale of the canvases. The Mondrian painting plays with this through a dialogue with itself about whether it’s a painting of a woman, a painting of a painting, a sculptural representation of a painting of a woman, or some mix of all of these things.
The most interesting paintings for me are the ones where these different concerns intersected. 6 Pack and Clash Of The Titans combine a really funny approach to depicting the figure with a jab at the hyper masculine sword and sandals movies that Hollywood has been churning out over the last decade. These two pieces also form one of the smartest statements of painting as object: Clash Of The Titans is a set of armor meant to be worn by 6-Pack, it becomes a garment in addition to a painting. Conversely Clash Of The Titans status as clothing implies that 6-Pack isn’t just an image of a body, but something like real a body in its own right.
Tree Woman and to a lesser degree Egypt also stood out to me. Both of these pieces look like they could be transplanted to a coffee shop and literally go undetected as anything but native art. They could have just as easily been painted by a middle aged Wiccan as a genuine celebration of the Earth Mother as by Gina Beaver. Not even their titles give a visible nod toward irony. But they function just as well in a white cube with the rest of Le Sigh, and more importantly, in essentially the same way. There’s nothing about them to suggest that they’re not celebrations of the Earth Mother, or whether that’s something that should or shouldn’t be taken seriously. Whatever Gina’s personal feelings on Earth Mothers might be, the paintings are consistent with the concerns of the rest of the show. These two pieces serve as a proof of concept for what the pallet paintings suggest; amateur painting isn’t just a viable language for trained artist’s to imitate, it’s a language that already contains fully formed expressions that aren’t necessarily at cross purposes with what an artist might want to say.
The painting of a torn poster of Muammar Gaddafi caught my attention as well. While most of the representations of the body in Le Sigh deal with anxiety surrounding mass media imaging of the body or self-identification with bodies, this piece deals with a different kind of mythology of image and identity. This piece is about a real person exterior to ourselves, with an iconic personality cult. The cellphone video of his last moments is one of the strangest pieces of documentation I’ve seen; its surreal and dislocating and is loaded with implications about how we receive information in the digital age. I can understand how this subject relates to the rest of Le Sigh; I don’t feel like it’s dealt with as intelligently as other motifs. The painting doesn’t seem to do anything other than acknowledge the events surrounding Gaddafi’s downfall as having happened.