Neal Walsh and Phoebe Lopes are very different artists, but they both manipulate their canvasses with techniques not traditional to genre of painting. For Phoebe, whose training is in printmaking, each work she creates is technically a mono-print. Neal’s paintings, on the other hand, stretch into three dimensionality, becoming painting-sculptures with intricately built-up surfaces.
Phoebe Lopes works with printmaking techniques, the transfer print in particular. She begins by making drawings – from life, from memory and from her own photographs – enlarges or reduces the scale of the image and the burnishes it onto the surface of a painting. Phoebe’s drawings are beautiful, awkward, honest and vulnerable. Her animals, humans and buildings occupy landscapes that function at times as allegorical models of the world around us and at others as dreamscapes of an imagined utopia.
The images can be sad, with achingly empty expanses of terrain, frozen moments of isolation. Some compositions reflect the inherent intensity of even silent interactions between individuals, as in one painting in which hand-holding couples physically bound over a fjord while six heads with various expressions look on. The six heads might represent one person in differing emotional states of response to the landscape and the leaping lovers. Or, the heads might represent the ever-present jury of society that observes us all. Other paintings, particularly those with animals from the Noah’s Ark Ticket Holders and Global Warming series, seem strangely ancient and somehow prophetic, as if by carefully observing the animals the viewer might be able to glean some precious key as to what isn’t right with the world today.
The cool, stylish tones of Phoebe’s palette hint at the acrylic interior house paint, both mixed and off-the-shelf, that she employs in her work. The colors Phoebe chooses are familiarly comforting, and they reference hues popular with such style dictators as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren. Yet the echo of pop culture that resonates in Phoebe’s palette serves to remind the viewer not to over-project onto the gangly animal in the composition, however endearing, because painting is, after all, replica. It is this balance between moving and authentic drawn line and an elegant graphic composition that gives her work its power. Phoebe crafts delicate compositions that filter the complicated facets of contemporary existence through a very personal and acutely sensitive lens.
Neal Walsh’s paintings are organic abstractions that take months, and sometimes years, to create. Using diverse materials that include lead, masking tape, paper, encaustic, debris and oil paint, Neal layers color and collage onto a panel or canvas ground. Many paintings are begun by tearing the onion-skin pages of old, found books into regular rectangles that may be applied in a grid format. This first step sets up a structure that, after multiple new layers are applied, ultimately may be almost entirely disintegrated. The resulting compositions trace the artist’s progress from bare canvas to finished painting, and the passage of time is physically recorded in the carefully balanced surfaces.
Neal’s work explores the intersection of nature with the urban built environment, revealing endless cycles of growth and decay. His working process itself mimics these cycles, as he builds up a painting’s surface and then destroys his progress. To a certain degree, Neal allows chance to interfere in the development of a painting. In one painting, he torched the edges of perfectly aligned stripes of masking tape, turning a strict geometric design into a pattern that resembles an animal pelt. Neal allows each step in his process to potentially dissolve his earlier work, much as rust eats away at metal.
Rust abounds in Neal Walsh’s work. Rust-red grids, like brick walls, seep with watery blues and mossy greens. Blackened, crusty surfaces bubble with grit reminiscent of rust on a marine hull. Creamy white drips pour down the mottled surface of a painting, picking up streaks of rust-brown stains along the way. Rust makes an excellent metaphor for Neal’s work, it is the ultimate emblem of decay, but it is also a productive and persistently growing force.