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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