Los Angeles

Rachelle Sawatsky, Heart Break Confusion Disaster, 2014, chalk pastel on paper, 21 1/4 × 27 1/4".

Rachelle Sawatsky, Heart Break Confusion Disaster, 2014, chalk pastel on paper, 21 1/4 × 27 1/4".

Rachelle Sawatsky

Harmony Murphy Gallery

Rachelle Sawatsky, Heart Break Confusion Disaster, 2014, chalk pastel on paper, 21 1/4 × 27 1/4".

Last spring, Rachelle Sawatsky mounted five pastel-hued unglazed ceramics and one large, aqueous cerulean canvas to the walls of the Finley Gallery in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Glimpsed through the street-level windows, the wall sculptures gave an effect of unprepossessing smallness that nevertheless betrayed an abundance of care, perhaps disproportionate to their modest size. The afterimage of these humble objects lingered in “Stone Gloves,” Sawatsky’s first show at Harmony Murphy Gallery. Here, she framed sixteen twenty-one-by-twenty-seven-inch drawings between two larger paintings, both Untitled (all works 2014), made of unprimed canvas soaked with layers of watercolor. The strict geometry of the gridded grouping into which they were slotted belied the individuality of these sketch-like drawings, each of which had a distinct temperament and visual weather. One evoked her painting from the Finley in its iconography of a coiled chain, seemingly submerged under water—a theme also conjured by the drawings. Lungs might have read as an anchor hovering just beneath the marine surface were it not for the heart-shaped mass at the form’s very center. In both installations, the individual works served less as exemplary models than as placeholders for a process that promises to yield many further instantiations within Sawatsky’s multidisciplinary and ever-expanding practice.

Indeed, one sensed that the hang, a provisional parsing and bracketing of the works on display, was just one ephemeral iteration within Sawatsky’s greater open-ended project, which comprises not just painting and sculpture but poetry. While Sawatsky chose not to show her own writing for “Stone Gloves,” the title of the show’s namesake work—a drawing of two gloved hands outlined in black and groping what appears to be the loopy abstraction of a face—was appropriated from StoneDGloves, a 1970 artist book by Japanese-Canadian author, artist, filmmaker, and pedagogue Roy Kiyooka that pairs photographs of workers’ gloves, taken at the Expo ’70 construction site in Osaka, alongside related poems. In homage to Kiyooka’s appositions of words and images, Sawatsky fashioned her titles, developed concurrently with the drawings they accompanied, into a conglomerate poem, presented in a narrow vertical column on the show’s press release: “TITLES (Poem) / Skin Colored Gloves / Swagger / Untitled / Butts / The Greatest / Siamese Thinking / Lungs / Smoke / Box / Left Heart Right Heart / Christian Alien / Bricklayer / Heartbreak Confusion Disaster / Love Loving Lobe / Untitled / Stone Gloves / Having Written my Enemy with Love.” While these words and phrases corresponded to the drawings on the wall, they did not determine the works’ order or placement. Unlike the vertical orientation of the poem, the drawings’ four-by-four matrix suggested both the possibility for an endlessly reconfigurable installation and the poem’s autonomy from the exhibition that predicated it.

Sawatsky often employs writing as a catalyst for other forms without necessarily implying a direct, causal connection between them: The written page becomes a locus for free-associative experimentation. And each image implies a fragmentary response to some elusive narrative—or dream—one the artist renders surprisingly vivid. This appeal to the oneiric, taken together with Sawatsky’s avowed interest in the sensible as inherently subjective, could foster a kind of indulgent solipsism, the formal manifestations of which might have relevance for the artist alone, and it is to her immense credit that she makes such intimate subject matter relatable. Love Loving Lobe pictures three figures ramming themselves into a disembodied ear. A riff on the doubting Thomas as well as a weirdly sexualized image of penetration, it might further be understood as an allegory of viewing, whereby the unmarked but permeable boundaries of the thing afford the viewer access to its fluid subject matter and the uninhibited consciousness of its maker. For Sawatsky, these dreamlike images provide a fertile ground for interpretation, both revealing unconscious desires and, perhaps, serving as agents of their resolution.

Suzanne Hudson