Los Angeles

Jill Giegerich, To B. H. (2) (JG2009-11), 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 23".

Jill Giegerich, To B. H. (2) (JG2009-11), 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 23".

Jill Giegerich

Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art

Jill Giegerich, To B. H. (2) (JG2009-11), 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 23".

Several recurring visual tropes circulate through the schematic and disjunctive dreamscape of Jill Giegerich’s recent paintings, repeating and recombining in various guises like a shuffled and reshuffled deck. A circle of suggestive formal relationships emerges, and one could map a flowchart of such connections through the twenty-seven works from the past four years that were on view in this show: There are cartoonish, angular ears conjuring a chiseled Superman type, which identify a crucial state of heightened auditory (sensory) alertness that amplifies and ricochets off depictions elsewhere of industrial robotic figures based on communication towers for deep-space listening devices. Echoing the concavity of such satellite dishes, full-bodied cactus blossoms splay across numerous canvases, transitively suggesting a visual metaphor for the petal-like ornateness of the human ear, which, in Giegerich’s hands, accesses an interplanetary range. Other floral motifs appear latent and gestative—the tapered petals of an oblong lotus bud are tightly bound like a capsule, simultaneously connoting the gleaming metallic hardness of a yogic murti and the discrete larval enclosure of a membranous egg sac or chrysalis. The pinched shape rhymes with a swollen teardrop form that pops up here and there as though ejected from the streams flowing from tilted vases pictured in other compositions. And the list goes on, leapfrogging from blossom to bud to droplet to vase to falling water to women, seen upside down, spouting spiraling ponytails and more.

The temptation to decode and decipher Giegerich’s paintings along morphological or symbolic lines is strong. Their obscurity seems primed for linguistic parsing and allegorical scrutiny, but ultimately, the artist conveys a syncretic struggle to both engage and move past this persistent narrative impulse. Beyond any particular hermeneutics—legible to the viewer by degrees—she documents the incommunicably slow process of privately cultivating the kind of thinking that manifests itself only on the level of line and form.

All the paintings, large and small, have the distinctly provisional appearance of being studies, experiments full of crude revisions, sketchy spontaneity, and the blunt collision of volumetric modeling and graphic shorthand. Following a protracted midcareer about-face, each groping effort is the naked result of Giegerich—who vaulted out of CalArts in 1977 as a rising art star (alongside such peers as Mike Kelley and Lari Pittman) celebrated for her sculptural wooden constructions—having withdrawn to the desert to teach herself how to paint in the manner of Renaissance masters. Devoid of the cynical careerism that has ghosted a practice like John Currin’s, Giegerich’s decision late in life to start over and invent a new slowness for her art embodies a commitment directly at odds with the tendency of all things contemporary to accelerate. Begun about a decade ago, her old-master painting project rigorously institutes a deep re-skilling that countermands the apparently traumatic de-skilling she (along with generations of artists since) experienced at CalArts. (She currently teaches oil painting to art students at University of California, Riverside.)

What makes the artist’s militant focus on traditional craft of salient interest is the anachronistic pictorial strangeness she delivers in the course of balancing layered passages of virtuosic technique with a vigilant resistance to and active undermining of that technique’s tyranny. These paintings are decidedly uncool and that, as it turns out, is both their great strength and the source of disarming fascination. I’d say they rub critically against the grain of now, but perhaps that implies too direct a causation. Utterly indifferent to concerns of contemporary aesthetic currency or audience, they set off on their own through the recent past of postmodern pastiche and questionable shades of good and bad taste into a subtly new, persistently personal, and altogether promising left field.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer