New York

Nancy Cheairs

Schmidt-Bingham Gallery

In this, her first show in New York, Nancy Cheairs, a painter from Memphis, Tennessee, demonstrated a talent for creating vibrant symbols. Cheairs is gifted with the power to get at life’s truths and express them in bold visual terms.

Her forms and compositions are kept to the essentials. In Procession, 1987, for example, the composition consists of four dresses hung on a clothesline suspended between two trees, which are planted right at the horizon line and framed by a red sky. What comes across at first glance are the painting’s comic overtones, magnified by its large scale, stark frontality, and the gleaming hardness of its colored surfaces. The intense contrasts of the livid red sky, the trees with their impossibly straight black trunks and simplified green tops half-bathed in darkness, the green foreground with its spreading shadows, plus the accents added by the colors of the dresses (purple, blue, ivory, and dark blue) lift the image out of the purely pictorial realm and invest it with rich psychological overtones. The garments are symbols of the roles each of us has to perform in everyday life, cleaned up and made presentable and suspended in midair on a kind of lifeline. This image also suggests our ties to nature, that aspect of existence so often obscured by the responsibilities of everyday reality.

Similar themes are brought to mind in Boundless, 1987. Six dresses are lying on the ground all in a row, between two trees under a deep blue evening sky. The darkness that prevails is relieved only in two spots: by the bright yellow dress at the left and a small golden-toned figure floating in the sky above. The figure is without features or clothing. With legs and arms all akimbo in a gesture of joyous liberation, perhaps it represents someone who has shed the garments below and is celebrating freedom from what they represent. The light-filled body soars into space, at one with the spiritual universe.

The small figure is a motif that recurs in several other paintings, its appearance changing from work to work. In the triptych Journey, 1987, though more abstract and androgynous, it carries the emotional weight of a search for enlightenment.

Ronny Cohen