A thought experiment I sometimes engage in when looking at art is to ask myself what kind of god would make the world that is being represented or alluded to in the work I’m seeing. In my experience there are many gods: the god of second chances, travel gods, the god of small things, gods of wine and song. The painter Jennifer Coates evidently communes with the gods of luminous nighttime revelry. In her exhibition Lesser Gods of Lakewood, PA, Coates depicts a wildly active forest in a foreshortened picture plane that gleams here and there with crepuscular creatures that likely appear only when the sum total of human consciousness is in repose. In the wall-size painting “Dryads and Pollinators (Birds)” (2021) there are birds in flight, phosphorescent flower heads, trees awash in faerie dust, and the heads of female figures that seemingly grow in tandem with the flora here.

The show is split between two locations, High Noon’s permanent space on Forsyth street, and a temporary space on Eldridge. The other large painting (at the second location) “Dryads and Pollinators (Moths)” (2021), takes the viewer further into that world, later in the night. Here all the creatures are ringed by a shade of indigo and moths flicker around the female figures depicted in profile. They are rising out of the gloaming gaining greater presence as the night deepens. In the smaller paintings they take on full form, cavorting with goats and each other, hunting, eating, playing out their parts in cultic rituals. Soon I realize that the women figures are the demigods. It is the world they’ve made that I’m being given a window into, and it a more luminously lush, woman-centered place than my own.

Jennifer Coates, “Dryads and Pollinators (Birds)” (2021), acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 72 x 96 inches (all images by the author)
Jennifer Coates, “Three Nymphs” (2021) acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 inches

Lesser Gods of Lakewood, PA continues at High Noon gallery (at the permanent location at 124 Forsyth street, and a temporary space at 136 Eldridge) through January 23, 2022.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...