Allison Gildersleeve: A Thousand Other Things
Asya Geisberg Gallery, NYC
October 28 - December 18, 2021
What does the brain look like on "painting?"
Recent studies have analyzed its activity when viewing different kinds of art. Attempting to see what parts are doing what.
One of the ways the brain understands the world is to compare the things in it to other like objects from some vast inventory.
This is handy when viewing Alison Gildersleeve's glorious new paintings at Asya Geisberg Gallery; they're packed. They show interiors, dining rooms, drawing rooms, filled with chairs, tables, house plants, vases, bowls of fruit. There is a familiarity to these scenes as if they are places that she has frequently observed. And there's repetition, there are many vases, many chairs.
In "Sound Check" (2021), a light aqua coloured chair is cut in half. Another casts a long shadow even though it, itself has disappeared. Light comes in at a "window?" But this window is unreliable as what could be steely white curtains turns into a frothy sea of little boats (rendered in a couple of lime green dashes). We're in Raoul Dufy's St Tropez for a moment but under Maine clouds. Gildersleeve tempts our pattern making side and then defies it, requiring the viewer to construct parts of the imagery themselves using internally orientated cognition.
NMDA receptors situated in the cerebral cortex allow for the transfer of electrical signals between neurons in the brain and in the spinal column. When two neurons are activated at the same time, a phenomenon called "coincidence detection," occurs. Gildersleeve's paintings constantly activate these receptors. Comparing different chairs, plants and so on to preexsisting models. But at certain points rendered space is abandoned and incongruent areas appear.
"Of What Then" (2021), is late summer-y. Oranges and flashes of aqua, a huge palm plant fills the foreground sometimes just outline, sometimes fill. The objects seem to be capitulating to a more abstract idea of hue. Like a movie, where the tonal range of the film and the colour of the players clothes and things in the set, correspond to its content. Here they reflect the independent spirit and parochial perspective of the New England mentality. The love of hearth and home, transposed into the Internationalist ambitions of French modern painters like Matisse.
Because, although they don't look it, these are experimental paintings. They give a purpose to mixing abstraction into representational work. As if "Abstraction" itself had a purpose. The warper, the dream or hallucination bringer. A force that reorders the painting, bringing other styles, other reads, other narratives into a fairly pat scene.
So many contemporary New York painters have stripped the issue down to its key elements. Katherine Bernhardt, Katherine Bradford and Josh Smith for example, make impactful paintings that you can "get" in an instant. Just for your initial read of course. They've emptied out the space to put clearly represented things in.
Gildersleeve is going in the opposite direction. Instead of reading the painting we enter the space and are reassured by familiar objects. We experience a state called "mind wandering." Viewers apparently find less realistically rendered but still recognizable spaces as in say traditional Chinese landscape painting, more relaxing than accurately rendered landscapes. However, over time, odd and unfamiliar events start to occur.
In "Riptide" (2021), a circular rug starts to whirlpool in hot and cold daubs. Large light green triangles appear stage left and become a canvas of painted sailboats.
But the right side edge drools cubist shapes into the adjoining furniture as if a mid 50s fabric design was attempting a take over.
You can expect the brain on a Gildersleeve painting to be both soothed and aroused. Our NMDA receptors will glow in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex while other neurons will be fizzing up and down the brain stem struggling to make sense of it all.