One of the greatest attractions of Ursula Gullow’s work is her obvious joy in making it. Every brushstroke crescendos with energy. Her color choices are vibrant, her narratives open-ended.
Fifteen paintings comprise her show at PUMP, most all of them created in the last six months. There are little four-inch squares, large easel paintings and plenty of sizes in between. Some are quite serious, some are dreamlike, and some, like “Skunks Invade My Home,” are downright funny. In this piece, a comfy-looking pink couch sits in front of tasteful floral wallpaper. The domestic setting is sweet, if you can ignore the seven furry black-and-white creatures crawling on and around the sofa.
In fact, animals of all kinds inhabit Gullow’s world. “Bird Landscape I and II” are patterned with flying birds moving above the flowing colors in fields of fuchsia flowers, and in “First Day of the World,” a snowy owl hovers over a group of little girls playing in a city street.
A church steeple, red brick buildings and a Greyhound Bus station form the backdrop for a full-length portrait of a young man who looks remarkably like Asheville sculptor Sean Pace. Casually dressed, he looks intently at a small white object in his hands. In turn, a row of birds watch him closely from the foreground. They are joined by a horde of brown rats scurrying across the field and around his feet. The intriguing title of the work (also given to the whole exhibit) is “What I Heard Had Happened to Me.”
In another portrait, “Working Up to a Fairy Tale,” a young woman stands rather stoically at the edge of a wood with a spotted dog and several squirrels. In “Queen of the Wasps,” cigarette smoke swirls around a large hornets’ nest. The smoke emanates from the animatedly gesturing hand of a cheerful young woman seated in a lawn chair webbed in bright orange. She wears a soft pink sun dress, and two large, ominous insects hover above her head.
What is about to happen? And why?
Gullow’s most confident work is “In the Midst of a Spectacle.” A young African-American woman stands in the thick of a flock of long-legged birds flying across a dynamic yellow sky. Maybe cranes, bringing her a message?
The work is loosely painted and swarming with unanswered questions.
Interestingly, Gullow’s work addressing social issues is quiet. Her “Iceland Series” is made up of four small, square paintings. In the first, people stand before a pale green sky, one holding a large video camera, one holding a microphone, and one being interviewed. In the next, a pudgy man walks a dog on a lavender beach. His plump body, as he propels it past languid female sunbathers, is squeezed into too-small swim trunks.
Number three in the series shows two serious men in yellow hardhats, facing one another, arms folded. The final piece in the group depicts a lovey-dovey suburban couple pushing a baby carriage down a sidewalk past an upscale house. Is it their house, or just something they dream of having someday?
In a poignant reminder of nature’s losing battle against strip-mall America, Gullow has painted a small tree perched precariously on a tiny pedestal of earth. The tree valiantly struggles for life, its potential for future growth devoured by a bulldozer. Gullow looks for, and usually finds, multiple meanings in her images. And the messages come from a real place—from deep inside the artist.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]
What I Heard Had Happened to Me, a solo show of oil paintings by Ursula Gullow, is up at PUMP Gallery (in the Phil Mechanic Building, 109 Roberts St. in the River Arts District) through Sunday, July 29. 254-2166.