Luanne Martineau

Jessica Bradley Art + Projects

Glancing from afar at two of Luanne Martineau’s vibrantly colored and compact fiber reliefs, one might be tempted to dismiss them as sentimental or simplistic throwbacks to the craft-based feminist practice of the 1970s. But perusal of this pair of works, made of wool yarn and felt, reveals a wide array of painterly and corporeal references combined with a striking formal and textural complexity. Portrait (all works 2006), for example, has a felted underlayer—which registers as a handworked relative of the machine-stitched unprimed canvas—that is combined with delicate, sweeping overlays of hairlike black strings punctuated with light red accents. Atop this yarn base, the artist attaches details in felt, including white oval puffs of smoke, a detached pink nipple bordered by an orange areola, and deformed, downward-pointing digits gruesomely accented with fleshy and decomposing nails.

Portrait was accompanied by The Painter, which features multiple layers of felt suggestive of pockmarked skin and matted hair. Such anatomical allusions and distortions—along with a preponderance of pink and peach tones—recall the “Women” series that Willem de Kooning made between the late ’30s and early ’60s. Martineau’s capacity to engage in a learned dialogue with modernist “male” painting cultures is further stated by a Guston-inspired penile cigar that protrudes upward from the picture plane and a mangled cigarette—sinking into the felt—that is reminiscent of Pollock’s stamping of his smoke into the surface of Full Fathom Five, 1947.

Martineau is adept at establishing a tension between the domestic connotations of craft materials and uncomfortable subject matter. This happens on a grand scale in Figure, a life-size but genderless yarn-and-felt figure splayed across the floor. Resembling a mangled and flattened two-headed corpse, it boasts patterns and color schemes that seem partly derived from wool toques and winter sweaters. The readymade origin of these patterns combines effectively with amorphous blotches of felt that meld with one another in a way that suggests decomposition. Literal counterpoints to this abstract aspect are provided by another nipple motif, a pair of oversize eyeglasses, and a single enormous shoe that sticks up sardonically, representing the only intact body part. Perhaps this unfortunate individual was once a clown, who, judging by the liberal doses of red in his or her torso section, met with an especially violent end.

Such high drama was contrasted with the subtler yet still disturbing imagery of three pencil drawings also on view. Portrait I and Portrait II both include a female torso wearing a raggedy sweater. These luckless women have rectilinear grids in place of heads, and one of them appears hunched over from the weight of her monstrous geometric excrescence. Grotesque details refer to R. Crumb’s more misogynistic doodles. Martineau presents stark juxtapositions—exemplified by regularized grids combined with wigged-out representations of the body—that compel, in pleasingly complicated ways, reflection on modernisms past, and on the role that handwork may still play as a basis for critical art-making.

Dan Adler