Caragh Thuring, August 1779, 2011, oil and matting agent on dyed linen, 72 1⁄8 × 96".

Caragh Thuring, August 1779, 2011, oil and matting agent on dyed linen, 72 1⁄8 × 96".

Caragh Thuring

Images of an erupting volcano have been common in Caragh Thuring’s paintings since the mid-2000s. A semi-submerged submarine started to complement that motif a decade later, by which time clear distinctions between natural and human-caused calamity were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. What the volcano and submarine share are intimations of turbulent depths as well as a dramatic breaching of fragile boundaries between a world that is familiar and one that is not. The submarine sprang from a childhood spent in Holy Loch on the Firth of Clyde in the south of Scotland, where the US Navy maintained a base for underwater craft. The Clydeside upbringing of the Belgium-born artist may also partly account for her recurrent use of imagery evoking the industrial architecture of a bygone age.

As for the volcanoes, the most arresting painting in this exhibition—a survey of twenty or so paintings made over the past fifteen years—was August 1779, 2011, which suggests a debt to historical depictions of a notable eruption of Mount Vesuvius. More general mythic associations are also, however, surely pertinent to a body of work that registers a significant degree of self-consciousness regarding its own coming into being. Vulcan was, after all, a master of invention, god of craftwork, and a patron of artists and artisans. Prominent in the foreground of August 1779 is a redbrick wall whose incongruous semitransparency reveals it as yet another disconcertingly permeable boundary, an emblem of the nexus between artifice and nature—brick being made of clay extracted from the earth in order to impose a construction on it. Like the windows that also punctuate some of Thuring’s paintings, notably in a series invoking Dutch interiors, the brick wall can also signify as a facade, a bounded liminal plane that may resist or accommodate penetrative vision. David Gandy, 2014, is an unusually small canvas whose relatively straightforward composition features the outline of the famous male model striking three poses, his tanned features and buff body replaced by patchworks of patterned red brick. Earth’s crust, sea surface, windowpanes, brickwork, not to mention the numerous silhouettes that haunt these pictures, are surrogates for an infrathin picture plane on which any number of signifiers of disparate kinds, from rude scribbles to photographic tableaux, mingle uneasily.

To call attention to these threads that bind together Thuring’s oeuvre is not to say she does not allow herself freedom; her work’s individual and cumulative allure benefits from its formal heterogeneity. The twenty or so substantial paintings assembled here, most measuring around four by six feet, offered a useful overview spanning the past fifteen years. A grid of small monotypes from 2021 was also on view, as was a selection of works in ink on paper dating from a decade earlier. Thuring’s paintings, in particular, belong to a lineage of disjunctively layered pictorial composition that might be traced from Francis Picabia’s “Transparencies” via Sigmar Polke through the resurgence of figurative painting in the 1980s and beyond. Specific details here and there recall the work of fellow painters ranging from René Daniëls to Laura Owens. Until recently, Thuring’s paintings tended to provide the viewer with some breathing space in the form of areas of raw unprimed linen, but, in a body of work produced over the past five years, she denies her audience such respite. These are painted on custom-made fabric supports, made by Suffolk weavers, that feature digital renderings of photographs she has either found or taken, including imagery derived from her own earlier paintings. As the debris of history continues to pile up, it seems new means are required to bring as much as possible to the surface.