New York

Jane Irish

Sharpe Gallery

The appeal of Jane Irish’s paintings is their economy. In general, they simply place two different examples of architecture in opposition under a blue sky and allow them to object to each other, to fight it out (stadiums recur). Battles take place between cultures (primitive versus sophisticated) and between gender symbols (steles versus doughnuts); occasionally the structures find a link to each other despite their hostility, as in Businessman’s Special, 1984, whose sports arena and skyscraper establish the intimacy of empire with the playing fields of Eton.

The works are not exactly badly painted, but dryly painted, with the awkwardness of tempera, as if, appropriately enough, to heighten their sense of tight, spare commentary. They have the air of knowing more than they say, the jerkiness of a ruthless editing of all but the barest necessities. At first one may think of the inevitable bit of painted foliage peeking over the edges of the canvases as relief from this plainness—the decorative clump of green, the parsley on the edge of the plate. But what is marginal becomes crucial, adjudicating: the third party, which is nature, impassively judges the conflicts of civilizations. At a remove from the buildings, closer to the viewer, the leaves suggest that somewhere in the safety of eternal nature we stumble across these archaeological curios. Or, as indicators of scale, they reduce the structures to models, toys under a tree. Also, the way the buildings sink slightly in the sands of the plain removes them temporally, makes them remote by eons. In these ways Irish trivializes the values such edifices represent, and dismisses their conflicts as beneath our notice. Left alone, such concerns will simply strand themselves. Dismissal may not be the most effective means of resistance in real life, but here it’s an interesting use of esthetic distance.

Jeanne Silverthorne