Jacqueline Bernat

Miller Yezerski Gallery

Jacqueline Bernat creates gauzy, evocative monochromatic images by covering black and white photographs with encaustic, then scratching, scarring, and scraping their surfaces. The 18 photo-constructions included in this, her first one-person show, each consisted of one or more centralized photographic images mounted on wooden geometric constructions that projected ouward, like sculpture, from the wall. Sheets of ordinary household lead flashing and mottled-gray or black linoleum sheathed the bases, creating sculptural/architectural frameworks that recalled the primary structures of Richard Artschwager and Donald Judd. Bernat, however, managed to replace the cold objectivity and purist detachment of Minimalist form with sensuous textures and highly elusive and complex imagery. Hands, nails, candles, ladders, ropes, and flames were recurrent symbols, either represented photographically or incorporated as actual objects. Aside from the obvious Christian iconography, there were also numerous allusions to personal captivity and freedom, death and salvation, domestication and spirituality. Titles such as Mystic, Genesis, Prophet, and Black Totem underlined the artist’s intentions.

The constructions conformed to three basic structural formats: large framelike parallelograms, faceted totemic sculptures, and small double or multiple box frame units hung in tandem or at intervals. The formal design of a large-scale work like Stasis, 1992, a linoleum-based parallelogram bearing a single, giant, surreal image of the artist’s hand clutching a rope leading to a bound folding chair, was captivating. Ascetic, 1992, a vertical piece of wood covered in lead attached by small nails, and abstracted photographic images covered with encaustic, became a menacing totemic sculpture with the addition of three large fetishistic nails at its base. It was in the smaller multiple constructions that the merging of imagery, structure, and theme was most focused and persuasive. Conceptual allusiveness was here replaced with visual harmony and compelling narrative. Conviction, 1992, was an installation consisting of four 8-by-8-foot boxes arranged vertically at equal intervals. Three boxes contained sharp close-ups of thick rope sealed to linoleum-sided cubes, while the fourth bore a dreamy, soft-focus image of folded diaphanous cloth. A pile of sharp carpenter’s nails was stacked ominously on the floor below. Symbolic references to Christ’s betrayal (rope) and the Passion(nails) presented a counterpoint to the harsh reality of the commonplace building materials employed.

In her series “Leap of Faith,” 1992, Bernat highlights a single element in a small box below a larger photographic construction. Leap of Faith IV is a darkly poetic juxtaposition of a photograph of two burning votive candles with a murky image of ropes that seems to float in a hazy metaphysical void. A smaller square lead box bound with plastic bands hangs beneath the photographic image. Leap of Faith V displays nine actual votive candles with blackened wicks, arrayed in groups of three in a small lead box, below a photo-construction containing a framed image of a rope. In these quiet meditations on servitude, the candles suggest sacred fires, liturgy, and liberation. Maintaining both sculptural rigor and elegance of surface, Bernat’s work is at once confrontational and transcendental.

Francine Koslow Miller