Ellen Phelan

Cincinnati Art Museum

There’s no age of innocence in Ellen Phelan’s paintings of dolls. She has joined those artists who see the miniaturized and the mannequin as stand-ins for imaginary scenarios. From Hans Bellmer’s fetishistic poupées to Jeff Koons’ glazed trophies of the mass media, the passive hand-held plaything has often greased the mechanism of our fantasies.

What’s so eerie about Phelan’s little figures is the scumbled ambience muffling their definition. They’re like family members in fuzzy photographs whose identities ought to be obvious, yet remain irretrievable. The power of Phelan’s small personnae is inseparable from their envelopment in shadows: the webs of paint that arrest them become the sum and substance of their small efforts to penetrate their surroundings. Phelan also builds on the theatricality of such unlikely forebears as Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward

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