Friday, December 18, 2015

Pensive Intimacy Fills the Impermeable Void

Untitled, 10" x 12," oil on canvas, 2015.
"I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads."
The blunt honesty expressed in Zora Neale Hurston's piercing essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," offers profound insight on the emotional weight a talented woman of color bears. She describes being "a dark rock surged upon, and overswept" yet states value in self-importance while simultaneously critiquing pitfalls of the burdensome sharp colored object propped against white background.
Perhaps this text has been reinterpreted in visual sphere, preparing an attentive audience for rapt vulnerability shrouded in comfortable safety, in an unexpected degree of much needed solidarity and compassion.

Apparition as Inheritance, 10" x 12," oil on canvas, 2013-2015.
Exactly one month ago, in the dimly lit Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts auditorium, renowned painter Jennifer Packer discussed bridging historic artists with contemporary, painting presenting a meaningful and extraordinary challenge, and the importance of mapping out a space-- a space primarily for the isolation racial identity potentially symbolizes.

Bouquet, 24" x 14," oil on canvas, 2013-2015.
Sikkema Jenkins & Co. latest exhibition features three other phenomenal women artists: Leslie Hewitt's conceptual photographs purposely propped at diagonal angle on the ground, Jennie C. Jones' gray framed graphic jagged edges and minimalist jazz notes, and Josephine Halverson's seemingly repetitive trompe l'oeil scenic window paintings. Behind them awaits Packer's "Breathing Room," a resplendent calm after pleasing thunderstorm, an almost numb captivation. Shifting from small intimate scale to vast proportion, her collected flowers and human beings take on a hallowing effervescence. Like charged veins pumping oxygen to heart, scrapes of pure white and raw canvas seep through golden yellow filters. Poignant attentiveness to detail in Apparition as Inheritance captures a lost secret into its irresistible Venus fly trap-- the thin lines of exposing Venetian blinds let touching acknowledgement sift inside. Among gathered mass, implanted feet of a relaxed figure break through mysterious fortress, presenting truest feeling of being present, being alive.

Ain't I?, 96" x 48," oil on canvas, 2013-2015.
These impressionable flowers and dominating figures must be planned, must be calculated, belonging in their respective environments, awestruck light clinging to protagonists. One compelling discovery is seeing the black body, the brown body having an ethereal, almost angelic appearance, an exact opposite of how oppressive media portrays a black body, a brown body to be. Transparencies evoke such a wondrous language full and lush, like fluid watercolors and opaque gouache playing melodies together. It is oil paint on a journeying limbo between textured application to an almost ghostly tremble.

April, 24" x 14," oil on canvas, 2015.
Packer concocts a brilliant density rivaling radiant summer sun rays. She unleashes anchor of careful intricacy, revealing her arsenal in manner of which an eyeball, an arm, a petal are tenderly defined. Other places are clandestine shadow bathed in a porous glow too genuine to be considered artificial. Opulent flowers burst within metaphoric midst. Bouquet is a startling energetic firework. Yet Untitled seems determined to leak unattainable fragrance in the subtle confines of its yellowed radiance, perhaps a confessional metaphor for "eternal feminine with its string of beads."
Still, composed figures have engaging perspective from straight forward to foreshortened view. Each centered subject symbolizes a powerful, undeniable presence. In April, the female body is laid back against an ordinary chair frame, hands folded at her middle, black boots at forefront. The most startling, most arresting moment is the precious luminosity entering in and out of her, from skin to clothing fabrics to the boots, that gleaming luminosity is a magical pull towards imperial affection.
Monochromatic color is exhausted into the existence of its potential. For example, William is brown paint collapsing on top of white, emerging in the white, building up a thickened plot of complex tension uttering frustrated agony over being a marginalized body in solemn suspension. The lone figure sits in butterfly position-- opened knees forming a v shape, hands resting on tops of knees. He activates canvas entirety, packed in that one brown paint tone (sepia? umber?), disappearing in white.

William, 72" x 48," oil on canvas, 2013- 2015.
Packer's provocative artistry mirrors discernible fragments of Hurston's prose, announcing the very solace oxygen provides all life to earthly exist, the uneasy qualms of societal conviction, the fragile circumstances that comes with being born a peripheral person, and the limited time that can be sliced away with an oyster knife. Pride and joy and love wraps around flowers and figures, persuading viewers to succumb to imperial affection.
"Breathing Room," which houses "no great dammed sorrow in soul or lurking behind eyes," is up at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. until January 23, 2016. 

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