Emily Furr, who is in her late 30s, received her MFA from Hunter College, New York, in 2018, nearly two decades after receiving her BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Her debut exhibition, Emily Furr|Mother Lode, at Sargent’s Daughters (August 3 – September 9, 2018), consists of 13 oil paintings, the largest of which measures 14 1/2 by 13 ½ inches. According to the gallery press release:
Furr’s work references the feminine archetype, which she seeks to restore by working against the current phallocentric age and issuing in a new yonic era. If a phallic signifier points to action, explosion, and fortitude, a yonic signifier points to the subconscious, the sublime, and the cosmic void. A phallus points outward, a yonis inward. If the phallic is physical, the yonic is celestial. It is a portal into the dark unknown.
Furr’s representations of the phallic and yonic are straightforward: sharp, hard, pointy objects piercing round ones, or tongue-like protuberances extending out of pipes. The tightly painted images either fit snugly into the painting’s confines or else they are cropped. The palette, which can be divided into daytime and nighttime colors, both hot and cold, includes reds, blacks, blues, whites, and various tonalities of green. The paint is pasty and brushed on.
“Star Spill” (2018), which is set against a deep green ground, depicts a smooth river of stars pouring out of a wide black pipe that enters the painting from the upper left-hand corner. In “Double Barrel” (2018), which is set against a starry, cerulean blue sky, a long red tongue extends out from one of the two joined gunmetal grey tubes again slanting down from the painting’s upper left. While the double barrel evokes a shotgun, the tongue, whose end curls upward, complicates any straightforward reading. This is what Furr does best. Her images are direct and simple, the juxtapositions are clear-cut, but they never resolve into an easy narrative. In “Pressure Drop” (2018), what are we to make of the blue drop emerging from the corner where two walls of creamy off-white slats meet?
There are hints of pain and discomfort mixed into these paintings, as in “Steel Pulse” (2018), where a pointy red object rises up from the bottom edge, passing through the center hole of what resembles a circular saw blade as it floats against a black ground. In “Rise and Grind” (2018), a slanted red phallic shape pushes through a hole in a metal object resembling the circular end of a wrench. What happens when these phallic and yonic objects come into closer contact?
Furr’s immaculate demarcation of her forms shares something with the paintings of Christina Ramberg. The difference is that Furr never references the female torso. We see extensions and bodily residue – an extra-long tongue, a fulsome drop of blue liquid, a throbbing red phallus-like object. Things penetrate the openings of other things, but the body is nowhere to be seen. This absence adds a twist to whatever erotic current runs through the paintings: it suggests that objects can bring about pleasure, that a partner’s body isn’t really needed to achieve sexual satisfaction. Meanwhile, the celestial imagery adds yet another dimension, transporting us from the bodily to the immaterial. What are we to make of that?
Emily Furr|Mother Lode continues at Sargent’s Daughters (179 East Broadway, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through September 9.