New York

Nancy Mitchnick

Nancy Mitchnick’s compact paintings of lightbulbs and landscapes fuse the elusive beauty of light-saturated color with the tac-tile materiality of common, mass-produced objects. Simultaneously sumptuous and understated, ravishingly gorgeous and perfectly ordinary, her deceptively simple images create a palimpsest of narratives on a single, painterly surface. Mitchnick’s realistic depictions bring the rich, if long-beleaguered, traditions of still life, landscape, and portraiture into the present. Smartly exaggerating the tendency of contemporary photo-based conceptualism toward tight cropping, aggressive framing, and dramatic staging, her vivid pictures conflate supposedly out-dated genres of painting in uncannily unified, quasi-iconic compositions. By marrying these putatively archaic modes to techniques and procedures more common to mechanical reproduction than to hand-made representations, her intensely focused works stake out a charged territory between naturalism and artifice. In the compressed, theatrical space they construct, artifice and reality neither overlap nor remain at odds with one another, but become coconspirators in silent, one-act dramas: the plots may escape us, but the puppet-size stars stand before simplified backdrops, totally exposed to our gazes and patiently waiting for our visual participation and imaginary engagement.

Self-conscious and sophisticated, yet direct and accessible, Mitchnick’s generous images suggest not stasis so much as a dreamlike suspension, a freeze-frame weightlessness that defies gravity’s pull and time’s passage without cancelling the palpability and materiality of her surrogate figures. Painted with masterful ease and a seemingly ecstatic pleasure, her works often achieve a poise and gracefulness that accentuates and strengthens their animate vitality. Although all of Mitchnick’s paintings bear the traces of earlier, overpainted versions, none of them hide anything behind the luscious colors of their bold, sexy surfaces. Deep Mediterranean blues, rich harvest golds, dark earthy browns, and strong lipstick pinks sometimes follow the contours of her swift, dripping brushstrokes, but at other times completely obscure such tumultuous activity, suggesting that her oils on canvas are less concerned with registering the traces of spontaneous gesture than with creating a precarious painterly unity. Her solid images reflect both serendipity and tenacious struggle toward a goal that cannot be precisely defined.

Mitchnick’s humorous pictures humbly demonstrate that representational painting is particularly well suited to flesh out the intersections among objects, ideas, and metaphors. Explicitly sexual, but hardly exhausted by this one-dimensional interpretation, her images give physical form to the tension-fraught mismatches between our expectations and our experiences, sustaining our interest long after their representational function has been fulfilled. They deliver visual pleasure that not only belies their reductive compositions and simple subjects, but is also exceptionally resistant to linguistic description. Like epiphanies, Mitchnick’s best works are moments of unparalleled clarity in which everyday experiences and mundane surroundings seem to exist in a realm unto themselves.

David Pagel