Senses and Sensibility

Julia Pinkham’s Sense and Energy. At Artamo Gallery. Shows through March 11.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

Julia_Pinkham_Dragon_Breath.jpgReproductions of Julia Pinkham’s “Dragon Breath” have been floating around town on postcards, advertising her show, Sense and Energy, now at Artamo through March 11. Even in such a small format, the work inspires disbelief. The critical mind thinks, “It can’t be that gorgeous in person. Perhaps it just reproduces well? She can’t sustain that level of achievement throughout a whole show.” Well, prepare to shed that particular disbelief. Pinkham’s “Dragon Breath” is that gorgeous. In fact, at full size and in person, it’s significantly more gorgeous. And the whole show is that gorgeous, and that compelling. Pinkham’s work is all about the curve, whether it bounds a form, or seems as if it might, or even resolutely refuses to do so. Anyone who wants you to believe you are buying pleasure when you buy a product sells you that product with images that include prominent curves and swirling lines. This is because marketers understand on a very deep level we equate the curvilinear with a certain kinesthetic experience, with a certain state of hypothalamic satisfaction for which we are at times willing to give up almost anything else. Although marketing images are, no matter what they are selling, mostly visual junk food, Pinkham’s works are 16-course gourmet feasts.

This is not to say these works are hedonistic. Pinkham knows experiences like these are most powerful when spoken of with restraint; thus the nearly monochromatic palettes. The best of these works, such as “Egg,” “Detached Viewpoint,” and “My Scrip,” are the most focused and spare. Never mind what these images have been abstracted from, whether it be the body in bliss, milk swirling as it hits hot coffee, sea creatures, or flowers  —  they all clearly and directly address the essence for which all of these lovely forms are but the metaphors.

Pinkham appears to have gotten ahold of what we think we want but never get because we’re always scratching the wrong itch, and she’s looking at it through clear eyes. This is what ecstasy looks like when represented as unflinchingly as if in a book of scientific illustrations. This is rapture served up by the fluid but controlled hand of a watercolorist. Don’t be embarrassed if for a moment your first impulse is to turn away. The desire and the courage to turn back to the canvas and take it in fully will come soon enough.

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