Gina Gilmour

Sandler Hudson Gallery

Gina Gilmour is a North Carolina-born artist who, in her recent paintings, seeks to render suburbia as an emblematic Southern landscape. She freezes moments of loss or tragedy in symbolic tableaux on front lawns, well-groomed lakeshores, and front steps of suburban houses. Her scenes seem alternately trivial and surreal, empty and meaningful. The ambiguity is deliberate: Gilmour wants to juxtapose the hollowness of the everyday with the suddenness of disaster or epiphany. Subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) weaving symbols into the paintings, she raises moral themes indirectly, in a visual language that owes something to the Southern literary tradition, in particular to the grotesque symbolic comedy of Flannery O’Connor. Here, however, it is the denizens of the average and well-to-do South rather than its underworld who supply the symbols of the grotesque, of moral decay.

The Lake and the Wounded Lover (all works, 1989) is a large canvas in which a totally bandaged figure and a seemingly anguished companion are seated on a grassy bank. They are paying no attention to the looming forest fire behind them, which is reflected in the lake they gaze into. The “wound” of the lover seems to have no relation to the present danger, although the tangled trees, expressionist sky, and fiery light in the lake are a reflection of the evident psychological state of the figures. The dreamlike narrative, however, is suspended at an ambiguous moment; there is no resolution of the tale or its symbols. Several other works, such as Good Neighbors, The Tree Behind Us, and The Devil and the Good Ole Boys, address relations of power and race in the contemporary South with more direct but still unresolved narratives.

Some works, such as Daily News, initially seem to be suburban genre scenes; in this case, an image of a boy with his arm in a sling walking down a path between huge shrubs. But the perspective is skewed; the tale is told vertically, in discrete elements that are splayed out on the flat surface. Thus, the paper boy seems to be fleeing out of the bottom of a jungle of well-tended, but nonetheless menacing, vegetation. The Homecoming portrays a yard and front steps leading to a door, which opens into a brightly lit sky instead of a house. The ambiguity in most of Gilmour’s other works is absent in this more direct reference. In the paintings from several years ago, Gilmour used Christian symbols in scenes that were otherwise very similar to these. The symbols tended to suggest that Gilmour’s overall intentions were transcendental or religious. The best of the new paintings instead capture a lack of moral resolution that is at the heart of contemporary life.

Glenn Harper