Art review: 'Elizabeth Rudnick: You're Not Real, I'm Real' at 707 Penn Gallery
In a world filled with constantly streaming images, most of which are vapid, the 13 abstract paintings that make up Elizabeth Rudnick's solo exhibit “You're Not Real, I'm Real” reward attention.
Rudnick says the works, on display at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown, through Feb. 28, are the result of late nights spent wide awake with her cellphone.
“I often find myself awake in bed at 2 a.m., unable to sleep, surfing Instagram,” she says. “There, the curated snapshots of other peoples' lives cascade in an endless, luminous chain. Beauty is consumed, comparisons are made, and my life is absorbed into the holodeck stream.”
Rudnick says the title of her show refers to “this dissolution of self.”
“The works in this show try to illustrate what it means to be sucked into the collective online reality, and what it feels like to then return to one's singular, ‘real' life,” she says.
Case in point: “When Did You Have It Last? No. 1” is a large canvas dominated by a massive, centrally placed white field. As obliterating as this large white swath is, the most interesting part of the painting is in the layered history at its edges. Here, Rudnick has attacked the canvas with abandon, putting in strong saturated colors strategically and leaving the white space where it needs to breathe.
In regard to the title of the piece, “‘When did you have it last?' (is) a question that leaves much interpretation up to the viewer. What is ‘it'? Stability? A lover? Or perhaps, it's merely referring to a lost cellphone. The suggested interchangeability of these things makes for a bit of tragic humor.”
Rudnick says other paintings in the show, such as “Shield,” are more directly funny.
“In ‘Shield,' a small green shape attempts, unsuccessfully, to hide behind a towering red form,” she says. “Likewise, in ‘Wishes/Fishes,' a thin orange figure seems to have flung a net into empty space, hoping to catch either half of the title.”
Rudnick says that many works that deal with the experience of new technology also use that technology as a medium. The works in this exhibit, however, take a different approach.
“The show is almost completely composed of abstract paintings, thus raising the question of whether technological experiences can be captured by analog techniques,” she says.
“Iceberg,” the first piece visitors will come to, is undoubtedly the most arresting. Here, Rudnick uses layers of white and tinted color in graffitilike gestures. Other marks stubbornly take on importance, often setting the emotional tone for the painting, which is ominous.
At 4 feet by 6 feet, it is the largest work in the show. The artist's marks are palpable. To be examined and laid bare in such dimensions is a bold gesture in itself, comparable to the sweeping brush strokes that inhabit this canvas.
In stark contrast, both “Her Dirty Pillow” and “Screen Memory (for JB)” pulse with vibrant color, as if popping off a television screen, although both are much smaller.
Rudnick is as adept at coalescing words as she is with paint. She describes them perfectly: “Using acrid and fluorescent colors, the gestures in the paintings convey a fast and frantic search. Meandering lines weave around and through each other, sometimes gently and, at other times, in more violent, broken marks.”
Then, there is the painting “You're Not Real, I'm Real,” the show's namesake. Perfectly placed in the back of the gallery, it is a visage awash in a sea of color, as if peering through all of this nonobjective coding.
To even the most casual viewer, it can easily be read as an acid-green face with slits for eyes, making it seem sinister — made all the more threatening thanks to its placement on a bright, shocking pink background.
“It is the most figurative piece in the exhibition” for a reason, Rudnick says, especially in regard to the title. “Coming from this melted figure, though, the phrase loses its bravado to become a whisper of anxious self-reassurance,” she says.
At a time when painters either take the minimal into the purely conceptual or return to representational forms of image-making, Rudnick's work is sobering and refreshing, extending the language of abstraction in a more serious and contemporary way.
As Rudnick so aptly puts it: “The works explore a variety of strategies to get to the same feelings: the discomforts and desires that permeate our relationships in contemporary culture. At the end of the day, is it our online selves or physical selves who are ‘real?'”
Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at email@example.com.