New York

Jennifer Carvalho, Hellmouth, 2020, oil on canvas, 16 × 20".

Jennifer Carvalho, Hellmouth, 2020, oil on canvas, 16 × 20".

Jennifer Carvalho

Jennifer Carvalho’s “Sign of the Times,” her exhibition of fifteen oil paintings at Helena Anrather, pulled the hefty weight of art history into the iffy present. The Canadian artist extracts details from well-known works of art—via cinema, antiquity, and the Renaissance—and reconstitutes them as a trove of murky reliquiae and amputations. She uses a uniformly dark palette, linking disparate eras and iconographies by filtering them through a very particular lens; her subjects are tightly cropped, close up, and dreamily out of focus. In Carvalho’s remakes, aqueous tones and daubed, bleedy lines look sodden, the recurrence of green, violet, and gray suggesting the moodiness of twilight underwater.

Hellmouth, 2020, brings the viewer face-to-face with the open maw of a gigantic sixteenth-century stone sculpture of the ancient demon Orcus that rests in Italy’s Garden of Bomarzo. Carvalho’s rendering centers the black depths of the mouth in the frame, pulling our gaze into a point of no return. This is the angle at which the face is typically photographed, and Carvalho’s straightforward point of view mimics both tourist photos and slow cinematography. The artist has referenced films in previous works, such as the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky; here, a reinterpretation of a garden setting from Lars von Trier’s 2011 Melancholia, titled A jolt (double shadow), 2020, was included. The film is an unspooling of cosmic peril, an apocalyptic pageant that borders on the fetishistic. Carvalho’s treatment of von Trier’s spectacle slyly merges the pastoralism of landscape painting with a kind of latent weirdness—even if one hasn’t seen the film, the canvas’s clusters of militant-looking topiaries and deceptive shadows are disquieting. On the other hand, Wildflowers (2), 2021, is a cheerful replica of a stock photo of lemon-yellow dandelions. A cursory Google search shows the image used on multiple websites about gardening, but in the context of the show, this scattering of common dandelions that one might see on a website for HGTV became a quaint curiosity in a cast of heavy hitters.

Cleopatra and Dioscorides, 2021, depicts a pair of headless marble statues that, in real life, sit before the palatial residence that once belonged to a wealthy Athenian couple on the Greek island of Delos. However, Carvalho strips the ancient figures of their ruined setting so they become spectral, backdropped only by a milky wash of sage green. The ceramic amphibian of Faience frog, 2021, brought to mind part of a 1972 poem by Roald Dahl: “In the quelchy quaggy sogmire, / In the mashy mideous harshland, / At the witchy hour of gloomness, / All the grobes come oozing home.” Velvet dusk, 2020, is a derelict romance of toppled pillars, pedestals, and capitals on boggy grass in the last light of gloaming—ashy gray and periwinkle against pitch-darkness. There are no signs of life, just cold artifacts post-everything. Carvalho’s masks, maenads, and busts are studies (of studies) of human form rather than warm-blooded bodies, subjects that impart an elusive liquidity, as if they’re on display in a submerged museum. Even the most benumbed viewer must admit that the sinkage is picturesque.