New York

Jane Irish

Sharpe Gallery

The decorative excesses of the Rococo set the stage for painter Jane Irish’s depictions of modern buildings. Cotton candy vegetation surrounds housing complexes, shopping centers, and office buildings. The frames of some of these paintings also include still-life elements, as in Penn Centre, 1988, or a painterly mist, as in New World Convenience, 1989. The buildings Irish depicts do actually exist, but they are in no way landmarks. They are, rather, bland descendants of the form-follows-function legacy, tombstones to utopia. Irish surrounds these structures with a marsh of foliage, not only to fantasize the banal but also to juxtapose different kinds of decadence in the disciplines of architecture and painting.

If Irish’s formula sounds a bit typical of post-Modern image/style juxtaposition and evokes the ever-present notion of cultural doom, her style is bizarre enough to invigorate her conceit. These are Irish’s most technically convincing paintings to date. Through the use of sweet candy colors and a loose circular brushstroke, Irish recalls, but does not imitate, the saturated sensuality of the Rococo. Though her works are thinly painted, Irish manages to create lush foliage and moody skies. Her former precisionist style is reserved for the depictions of the structures themselves, which are drawn in warped perspective and contain a plethora of miniaturist details.

Old World Charm, 1988, is a hillside view of a housing complex built on a landfill lagoon. Mint-green trees encircle the view, which stretches into the sea and disappears into the horizon. Irish depicts a similar scenario in Model Community, 1988. These planned environments suggest the partial realization of a utopian ideal, and Irish seems to engage in a perverse idealization of these acultural phenomena. In New Prescription For an Ailing City, 1988, she depicts skyscrapers rising out of a grassy expanse. The existence of nature in such close proximity to civilization is viewed as a utopian impossibility, one in which Irish willingly indulges.

New Feudalism, 1988, depicts two buildings standing in close proximity to one another against an expanse of field and sky. One is an office building, the other an elongated mall. The image is framed by a decorative china pattern. The work presents a closed cycle of earning and spending, while demonstrating architecture’s capacity to limit and control human behavior. Irish’s paintings convey the degeneration of Modernist architecture’s utopian ideal into situations of pure convenience, practicality, and decoration.

Matthew A. Weinstein