New York

Louisa Chase

Robert Miller Gallery

The formulary repetitiveness of Louisa Chase’s paintings can get a little trying. Landscape elements (trees, lakes, mountains) are thickly brushed with bright, funky colors out of a Betsey Johnson fashion show. Background is contrastingly smoothly waxy, a thick coat of polyurethane on random parquetry floors. The only suggestion of depth comes from blunt, rudimentary shadows. Decorative motifs—a flowering bramble and a neutered, effluvial torso—recur as out-of-scale heraldic devices. The ostensible subject matter (Pool, Waterfall, Clearing, Riverbed, to cite but a few) is rendered in the clunky faux-naif style that has been one of the Chicago School’s more enduring contributions to New Image painting. Chase’s work has all the glittering preciousness and galling vacuity of a Fitzgerald heroine.

Looking at a painting like Tide, with its great, cat’s-eye waves curling into themselves and then trailing out and away into white limned streams, one can, like Gatsby with Daisy Buchanan, get caught up in the seductive power of Chase’s seemingly effortless prettiness. Tide’s colors are hot and exaggerated, like those of a Mexican border town, and its waves are filled with internal swirls textured like stippled stucco. Yet, creeping up on the left side of the canvas are intertwined green stems sprouting large purple flowers. These fill out the composition, introduce chromatic tension, play havoc with scale, and are absolutely meaningless. A wonderful, onrushing energy is transmuted into a glib aside. Her lush romanticism, when combined with self-referential iconography, gets all thick and gloppy.

Entwine, notable because of its synthetic, completely decorative arrangement of Chase’s most stereotypical elements, is probably the most annoying painting in the show. It has a little bit of everything. Again, green stems plait up the left side of the canvas (this time terminating in red, tulip-shaped flowers). Moving to the right, two shimmering, white, Blavatskian torsos embrace. Cutting a diagonal channel from right to left through the picture plane is a river of pale blue. All of the elements are set on a ground of Schiaparelli “shocking pink,” which is alternately abrasive and complementary to them. In Entwine, Chase’s formula is exposed and, disappointingly, it’s an esthetic placebo.

The paintings are so locked into their arrangement of signature elements and modish colors that they succumb to a mannered iciness. Unlike Joseph Yoakum’s work—which Chase’s paintings recall—there is no conviction of place in her work, nor is there an emotional commitment to the power of fantasy. Compared to Yoakum’s invigoratingly personal landscapes, Chase’s paintings are caught in an academic and essentially decorative mode in which attitude has been wrongly equated with feeling.

Richard Flood