Amélie Bertrand, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Amélie Bertrand, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Amélie Bertrand

Amélie Bertrand, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 5/8".

Featuring a limited palette of matte oil paints, whose saturated hues channel something of the bright, flat light of David Hockney’s Los Angeles poolscapes, Amélie Bertrand’s surrealist environments are as enticing as they are disconcerting. An odd assortment of cartoonish motifs including blank tombstones, redbrick walls, velvety sandpits, white lattice fencing, Astro turf mounds, and crenellated ramparts characterize an unpopulated terrain that is distinctly artificial, yet appealingly familiar. But alluring though they may be, these pictures are not portals. Bertrand keeps the viewer at bay—denying easy access by relentlessly referring back to the surface of her paintings.

Eight smaller works, about 27 1/2 x 23 1/2", make up the bulk of the show. These focus in on snug corners and otherwise tightly cropped enigmatic vignettes. Bertrand augments the general feeling of claustrophobia in scenes depicting, for example, a yellow ladder hooked over a wall leading who-knows-where (Untitled, 2012), a nondescript horizontal cylinder supported by thick chains hanging beside a brick barrier (Untitled, 2012), or an anonymous tombstone with palm fronds and a miniature skateboard ramp in the background (Untitled, 2011) with discreet but effective manipulations of one-point perspective and shadow. In several cases, an expanse of turquoise at the top of the composition—initially appearing to represent the sky—upon closer consideration is revealed to be more likely a solid wall or ceiling. With a subtle band of slightly darker blue beside the turquoise, Bertrand establishes a corner and thus boxes in the scene. Suddenly, these invitingly bizarre locales reveal themselves to be airless dystopias with no sense of relative scale and disconcertingly ambiguous boundaries between interior and exterior space.

Bertrand’s facture insists on a single superficial plane. Painstakingly painting each element of the composition while masking off the rest of her canvas, she produces evenly coated and crisply defined regions of vibrant color. The neat seams formed wherever two areas of paint abut draw attention to the delicate tessellation of the works’ surfaces, which are not unlike complex jigsaw puzzles or pixelated LED screens. That the eye is held hostage to the surface, unable to fully penetrate the picture, is not altogether surprising, considering Bertrand creates her compositions on a screen—digitally collaging and Photoshopping her own photographs and images culled from the Internet.

Further clues as to the genesis of Bertrand’s curious mise-en-scènes are revealed in one of two much larger canvases, about 6'3“ x 5'6” , which is also the most narrative of all the works on view. This painting, Untitled, 2011, depicts a facsimile castle wall and tower buttressed by a scanty scaffold and anchored to a bright-green platform with heavy chains. A ramp at the bottom of the composition leads up to a circular sandpit marked with a pink flag. It makes sense that Bertrand finds inspiration in mini-golf courses, whose wacky scenery is amusing but whose flimsy construction and warped sense of place mark them as ultimately inhospitable. With this work’s grander, more pulled-back perspective, Bertrand cracks open the door to her world and affords the viewer some breathing room. Yet even here one feels that each element and its peculiar textural quality—craggy stones, gleaming chains, soft sand—is mainly an excuse to explore painting in terms of abstract forms and color theory. The complementary hues Bertrand uses to represent shadow on the castle’s faux-flagstone wall, for instance, would surely have made Josef Albers proud.

Mara Hoberman