Critics’ Picks

Jennifer Packer, Cumulative Losses, 2012–17, oil on canvas, 72 x 38".

Jennifer Packer, Cumulative Losses, 2012–17, oil on canvas, 72 x 38".


Jennifer Packer

The Renaissance Society
5811 South Ellis Avenue Cobb Hall, 4th floor
September 9–November 5, 2017

The hands in Jennifer Packer’s paintings are what stay with me. Graceful and obdurate, elegant and knotted, these hands bear strange relationships with their owners, floating into distinct view as the rest of the figure recedes among paint dribbles and hazy skeins of color. In Cumulative Losses, 2012–17, a billiard player lines up a shot, his left hand resting on the table surface like a rough, blotchy creature readying itself to pounce. A still, almost regal man sinks into a luscious red in Jerriod, 2017, his palms resting on a chair’s arms, fingers hanging loose in sinuous quiescence. These hands have a presence and dignity to them that seems to speak to the core of Packer’s practice, which presents black subjects as monolithic yet strangely diffuse. Her images emerge as forms wed together through painterly suggestion rather than hard-edged detail, imparting an ineffable vulnerability while still insisting on the figure’s matter.

This sensitivity is again engaged in the artist’s rapturous yet elegiac paintings of funeral bouquets. If reference to a concordance of opposites seems like a motif at this point, it is due to the deeply affecting and somehow achingly sad way the artist renders these objects and figures in exquisite dashes of color and darkness. Say Her Name, 2017, the largest of the flower paintings on view, is exemplary of this paradoxical beauty, its gloomy, viscous greens giving way to bright punches of pink, peach, and periwinkle blue.