Chicago

Amy Mayfield

threewalls

A chintzy drape and kooky lettering cut from various materials spelling out the backward show title, “Doog vs. Live,” marked the entrance to Amy Mayfield’s absurdly ornamented theater. The exhibition was festooned with craft projects, colloquial decor, and a selection of paintings that appear to exhaust every possible method of applying acrylic paint. Underfoot was a multicolored geometric field, a pattern of triangles painted on Masonite flooring. Houseplants, blobby expanding-foam stalagmites adorned with blooms of push-pins, pheasant feathers tucked behind rheostat switches, and animal cutouts glued to the walls and a heat vent transformed the gallery into an overstimulated hobby imbroglio. Clearly this was a show about overabundance and superfluity. Yet, more precisely, it was a hackneyed demonstration of undisciplined imagination, frenetic productivity, and acrylic paint.

Mayfield’s complicated compositions—idiosyncratic landscapes culled from liberal amounts of pliable medium—anointed the varicolored walls of the main gallery. Sweet-tart stale clementine combustion, topped with ginger, 2008, was the exhibition’s central painting. Residing on a black wall running the width of the gallery, this panoramic triptych features branches rendered in thick paint and, bunched up along the bottom edge, an assortment of spills, blobs, drips, and shapes—boggy organic forms fashioned posthaste from tubes of polymer and locked in place by a deadening orange ground. This is a graphic landscape with no atmospheric space and no pictorial illusion, a material accretion of mercurial colored plastic that evokes the flat illustrations found in children’s books.

Tizzysquash, 2008, is a more convincing landscape simply because it registers an atmosphere. Here Mayfield has pulled broad strokes of transparent gray paint over a flat, orange ground. Her abstract floras, clumps of patterning, and drippy lines coalesce into a scene reminiscent of illustrations by Dr. Seuss, although her composition is even more fantastical, almost Charles Burchfield–like, due to the fact that it conveys pictorial space. Of all the paintings in the exhibition, she-freak, 2007, is the most striking. Instead of building a seemingly arbitrary landscape out of acrylic contrivances, as she often does, Mayfield here produced a haunting portrait with deep, unifying shades of purple and black. The thick paint used in this bizarre picture of a ghostly figure floating in deep, cosmic space—the only work in the show that is not merely a mash-up of various acrylic styles—is run through with cracks, which appear complementary to, rather than incongruent with, the artist’s tight brushstrokes.

In a smaller adjacent gallery, Mayfield exercised restraint without sacrificing her affection for productivity and viscosity. As she had in the main space, she covered two of the gallery’s walls with fields of paint (here bright red) that culminated, near the ceiling, in what looked like jagged landscapes. In this room, she had also assembled a remarkable collection of used books, hundreds of them, mostly sporting red covers, stacking them high against the wall with their spines facing outward. Titled evil like the fruits of devil, 2008, this towering, wobbly bulwark of books is enchanting, conveying fairy-tale magic in its beautiful warm colors and grand scale. One gets the feeling that this work, which is stacked precariously “almost to heaven,” like the turtles in Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle, is meant to impart a moral about the perils of hoarding resources and of self-aggrandizement. Mayfield’s other works would have benefited from a similar narrative gist; her obsessive surface-embellishing and her preoccupation with the physical qualities of her medium often add up to mere enthusiastic busywork.

Michelle Grabner