Art

From Stitched Symbols to Painted Shadows, Connecting Two Artists’ Surreal Sensibilities

Rachael Gorchov "Five Or Six" (2016)
Rachael Gorchov, “Five or Six” (2016), acrylic paint, handmade archival paper mache clay, burlap, and pigment based print on enhanced adhesive synthetic paper, 17”x23”x20”; print 53”x63”x50” (all images courtesy Simuvac Projects)

Two multicolored rocks, placed side by side, cast long shadows that lie flat before bending at the walls they intersect, as shadows typically do. But that’s all that’s typical. These shadows are digital trails of acrylic paint, each with its own harlequin pattern, and are titled “Eight Thirty and Eight forty Five” (2016). In another corner there is a different rock, this one just as deliriously painted as the others, with a dark background interrupted by bright floral figures. From the paint splashed against the wall and floor, it looks like the rock may have been tossed from a distance and in landing, broke open a window into another dimension where both cool and warm color washes meet and overlap. The objects might be the manifestations of intellectual exercises in distinguishing between the figure and ground, but that idea doesn’t hold up when I see the half of a planet turned inside out: “Three O’clock” (2016) forms a shape like a bowl, the inside of which shows an image of the tropics and the outside of which bears another riotous color scheme.

RachaelGorchovEightThirtyandEightFortyFive
Rachael Gorchov, “Eight Thirty and Eight Forty Five,” (2016), terra cotta and assorted glazes with pigment-based inkjet print on enhanced adhesive synthetic paper, print 18”x33 ¾”x44”

These works, by Rachael Gorchov, are featured in NonSpecific Places at Simuvac Projects, a gallery that opened just this year in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Gorchov uses papier-mâché, clay, burlap, and a good deal of acrylic paint to make these little portals into some ultima Thule. She is paired with another artist, Jonathan Cowan, who uses woven canvases and then paints them to create scenes which are then interrupted by odd, talismanic motifs, each consisting of a more or less continuous line broken by a central symbol. These motifs are stitched into the fabric of the canvas by hand, an interjection that makes them more visually discordant with the painted scenes that are ethereal and haunting by themselves. The skies are mottled and full of omens and these swatches invade as if they were the manifestations of these omens foretold.

JonathanCowanColorFromAForm
Jonathan Cowan, “Color From A Form” (2016), acrylic and cotton thread on aida cloth, 16”x22”

Both artists provide a sense of dimensionality, an almost inhabitable space, employing strategies used by the Surrealists — painted illusions, inexplicable totems, shifting landscapes — to construct and then disrupt a sense of identifiable place. However, both bodies of work read to me as not quite resolved. While Gorchov’s pieces are more provocative, they don’t quite cohere as objects casting shadows, nor do the scenes depicted seem to be worth exploring (and unfortunately they suffer by having to compete with the patterned wood flooring, a fault of the installation, not of her work). Cowan seems to want a kind of iconoclasm: he weaves a formal spell and then breaks it with a formal interruption, which ends up feeling like an attempt to prove that he can do so. The show does not convince me, but the artists have made formal innovations that may eventually make their work more persuasive.

JonathanCowanColorInaForm
Jonathan Cowan, “Color In a Form” (2016), acrylic and cotton thread on aida cloth, 28”x34”

Jonathan Cowan and Rachael Gorchov’s Nonspecific Places continues at Simuvac Projects (99 Norman Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn) through July 10.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the designs on Jonathan Cowan’s canvases were woven instead of stitched. This has been amended. 

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