Critics’ Picks

Jeni Spota C., Venetian Victory, 2015, oil on canvas, 36 x 42''.

Jeni Spota C., Venetian Victory, 2015, oil on canvas, 36 x 42''.

New York

Jeni Spota C.

Brennan & Griffin
122 Norfolk Street
January 10–March 6, 2016

James Hampton, a janitor, built a tinfoil throne room for Christ’s return in a Washington, DC, rental garage; Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain is an adobe edifice in California made in honor of God’s enduring love; Laure Pigeon’s densely worked ink drawings are faithfully recorded transmissions from beyond the veil. Painter Jeni Spota C. unabashedly joins this lineage of ecstatic visionaries for whom art is a gateway into the divine.

One doesn’t just look at Spota’s paintings; one feels them. Their thickly encrusted oil surfaces warp—or rather, masticate—the orderly and elaborate geometry of the compositions. The textures read as hammered tin, disintegrating brocades, or even mortified flesh, and their eerily wan colors—acrid yellows, arid blues, and desiccated-looking greens, whites, and reds—are culled from another century. These images pulsate with religious patterns and insignias, along with the reverent faces of communicants, kings, saints, and queens. The most resplendent illustration of this, Venetian Victory, 2015, includes a pair of ossified cherubim flanking a sculptural crimson flower wreathed in ribbons, like an offering. And so we are transported: to Babylon and Lascaux; seventeenth-century Protestant graveyards; dusty monastery attics and basements; heaven.

Let it be clear: Despite the “outsider” appearance of her work, Spota is anything but. There is nothing willfully naive about her approach. She is a maker of sophisticated objects with a sophisticated art education to match. She knows her history and her aesthetic kin, and how she wants to place herself in the spectrum of contemporary thinking and making. But, like Sabato “Simon” Rodia, the architect of Watts Towers in Los Angeles—and a blood relative of Spota’s—she does as obsession, or the heart, commands.