New York

Cheryl Laemmle

Sharpe Gallery

Cheryl Laemmle’s new paintings occupy the very constricted space between the horns of a dilemma, a space wherein any assertion of the ego is seen as murderous. It’s a very narrow interstice that Laemmle allows herself to colonize here—between culture and nature, between autonomy and attachment. The will to power of art kills nature; Laemmle paints her figures as literally made of wood—trees, to be precise, but trees in which a Daphne still lives to feel the bite of the shaping blade. The inexpressive woodenness only heightens the emotion, which leaks out of a multitude of knots rendered as so many dolorous eyes. Similarly, the will to power (independence) of children kills parents. This is a mere suggestion in the work, difficult to prove. There’s a reference to childhood in My Swing, 1983; in Edge, 1983, a small house is endangered by a wooden horse. The house is built of the same stone as the birdbath in Empty Birdbath, 1983, which, with its prostrate female stump figure and an opening in the background hedge, implies the flown coop, the empty-nest syndrome. Tiny picket fences attached to the bottom and front of each painting comment forlornly on the ineffective policing power of the domestic.

An analogy is thus introduced that allows nature to stand in for grieving parents in the form of reiterated weeping willows, setting suns, vacant vistas. All those eyes might be the eyes of Argus, an equally unsuccessful guardian. The tree shapes are either literally or figuratively weight-bearing and often, even if it’s merely their own weight they must carry, find themselves unequal to the task. Top-heavy, they collapse or droop, or are propped up with a crutch. Melancholy is everywhere except in Edge, where the presence of a moon acts as a kind of excuse for aggression.

The carved inertness of the angel figure in Laemmle’s past work, and the emphasis on the predatory, suggested paralysis, the paralysis of the victim. Here, although it is the parental glyphs that are so girdled, their binding is strongly felt to be a projection of the self-pronounced guilt of the child. And despite their immobility there is more leeway here than earlier. Every move may be compromised, but at least there's the small flurry of activity prior to a checkmate. The narrowness of the space in which Laemmle works forces overflow, constantly seeks relief; this provides the work with dramatic tension, the sense of a bated breath waiting to be expelled.

Jeanne Silverthorne