New York

Gina Gilmour

Vanderwoude Tananbaum Gallery

In a season that has found the art world openly searching for what many these days are calling authentic expression, this show was a bona fide bonanza. It spotlighted the talents of Gina Gilmour, a New York artist with a decided flair for metaphorical statement. Since 1981, the style of representation she has developed has allowed her to treat the most elemental themes of life with refreshing conviction, and not the usual dose of pretentious bombast. A mark of this conviction is woven into the very fabric of the “Rescue Paintings,” 1985, the series featured in this exhibition. It is present in the ability these paintings have to reach out to us and turn the experience of viewing them into an exciting encounter. At the source of their appeal is their expansiveness as image and idea, the degree to which they can accommodate the very empathic responses they elicit.

Taking Turns, 1985, is revealing of Gilmour’s means and methods. Two figures, a man and a woman, are featured. The woman is totally submerged in water; the curled position she has assumed allows her to support with her legs the arched back of the man, pushing his head and chest above the waterline. The title refers to the ritual of survival being enacted: the figures must soon trade places or one of them will be destroyed. Like the others in this series, this painting describes a situation fraught with rich iconographic potentials that the highly suggestive nature of the artist’s style allows us to mine. Consider the figures in Gilmour’s work. She is specific about them to a certain point. In all of the paintings, her figures, which appear either in water or in rocky landscapes filled with rivers and giant boulders, are nudes with supple, rounded torsos, long reddish hair, and faces with rather blunt though handsome features. In Taking Turns, the two figures are movingly human, at once strong and tender, foolhardy and extremely trusting.

Gilmour makes it hard not to lose oneself in the dynamic space in Taking Turns and in other paintings as well, including The Secret Detail, 1985, The Fountain, 1985, and Waking, 1985. As a group, the latter paintings deal with issues of existential reality. The figures take on significance as personifications of feeling, while the situations are enigmatic enough to reverberate with universal meaning. For example, in The Secret Detail two figures, each lying on a blue cloth atop a large boulder, lean over into the dark space separating the boulders and embrace, their bodies appearing to merge as one. Perhaps the message here is that only love will save the day, but in the very specific and certainly nontrivial sense of seeing the act of embrace as the indication of making contact and getting in touch with others and with the inner self as well. Only knowledge keeps us from falling into the abyss of the unconscious.

Finally, what makes each of these paintings so vivid in the mind’s eye is its overall abstract aspect. Gilmour has mastered the tactile qualities of oil, making full use of its transparent and reflective properties. She is able to keep the planar construction of her compositions enticingly “on edge,” explosive, but never totally out of control.

Ronny Cohen