Anna Glantz‘s Horse in the Road features five large-scale, astutely rendered paintings. They are displayed in the stripped-down beach house gallery, Topless, in the Rockaways. Each painting references a different stylistic language, but presents what may be the same traveling character visiting various worlds, often only carrying a sack over her shoulder with an oppressive moon in tow. The remote location of the sparse gallery space makes it seem as though the paintings were found interred, long unseen. This body of work carries a symbolic narrative throughout, but the viewer isn’t given a key. Instead we’re left attempting to read what is discarded, the afterimages of a story.
“Saturnino X” recalls the illustrator Edward Gorey’s thin line work, but instead of a fine-nibbed pen, Glantz uses layers of paint that give the surface depth and tension not present in Gorey’s illustrations. Here the traveller seems inert, obstructed by treelike barriers and enclosed in a watery pattern. A calligraphic mark diagonally placed across the traveller’s torso carries a double meaning, acknowledging the pen-and-ink reference while also visually stopping the viewer. Here comes to mind the title of the show; a horse found in the road could provide an escape or could become a barrier.
Another painting, “These Are Pearls That Were Your Eyes,” could be a crop of a still from an older Sally Cruikshank animation. The delicate, stylized fingers of two reaching hands are evocative of this, their thin outlines and swooped forms begging to animate. Here the diagonal arms grasping and touching move the entire composition. The solitary, yellow traveller seems to be making a connection with another person on her journey. However, there’s something about the soft, frail gesture that gives it a feeling of hesitation and possible mistrust. Isn’t the stranger’s arm the same mirrored arm that is reaching to it, only rendered a different color? This is the only painting of the five that features another character, and it is unsettling. The solipsism may not be broken by this hallucination on the road.
The moon acts as another character and is featured prominently in two of the five paintings (and two more are set in a starry twilight). Both times the moon looms over the shoulder of the traveller and also breaks the painting, creating a space of pure, blinding white. In “Blood on the Tongue” it’s shaped more like an egg. The traveller here is jutting out of the canvas, the forced perspective and cropping causing her to fall forward. A red aura traces her shape. The large hat she wears covers all but the suggestion of eyes. They still stare. Here the feeling is ominous and it reminds us that the reason for escapist travel isn’t always freedom, but to leave behind a dark past.
“The Infinite, the Gold, and the Deathless West” can be considered to sum up all five paintings. The traveller is again obstructed, but isn’t stationary this time. She seems captured as if in a snapshot, about to exit the scene for good. Between the traveller and the viewer is a mound of blooming flowers. Paradoxically, orange autumnal leaves fall in front of the mound. Both spring and fall are referenced here. The traveller is in a lightly starry sky that could be dawn or dusk. This painting seems to condense time into one image, the traveller eternally journeying.
Overall, Glantz shows a proficiency for paint handling. Edges move from sharpness to open scumbling. There is a range of flatness and depth in all the pieces. Some use the language of cross-hatching to shade, while expressing a seamless tonal shading elsewhere. These are paintings that appear to have been worked over several times, never hiding their histories in the final piece.
The complex surfaces impede the work from becoming a thin quotation of various styles. Instead of being an easy, one-note gimmick, the genre hopping mirrors the potentiality of our world. As multiple realities unfurl, each with different rules and styles, the traveller remains the consistent symbol in all five paintings. She is a stand-in character, unknown enough to allow projection. There’s a reason “the road” is such a common metaphor in visual art, music, and even conversation. Personal reinvention, solitary considerations, fear, joy, and freedom: these are all part of life’s path, and through expressing this, the paintings become very human.
Anna Glantz: Horse in the Road continues at Topless (1–89 Beach 96th Street, Rockaway Beach, Queens) through July 19.