Local painter and Xpress arts writer Ursula Gullow’s exhibit, Speaking in Tongues, which is up through July 30 at Atelier 24, seems to deal with the forms of summer: “Heat Forms,” “Tube Forms,” “Tubing Forms.” These are some of the titles for the show, subtitled “Recent Paintings of People and Things.”
The exacting terminology of the show’s name and the paintings’ titles contrast with the ambiguous tenor of the material. “This series deals with extracting the person or form from the original placement, Gullow said via email. “The backgrounds are implied. Taking the character out of context draws attention to their gestures, clothing.” So it seems that the show also works with the formlessness of summer.
In “Heat Forms,” a crowded beach blurs into a confetti of impersonal shapes and colors, as if simulating the wavering, languid spell of the midday sun.
— “Heat Forms”
“Tube Forms” illustrates the same suffusion: a cluster of people, bobbing atop beach floats or swimming.
— “Tube Forms”
The activity itself, and the conditions of the summer day, smudges all distinctions: Where do the people, the tubes, the water, the sand, the sky and the air begin and end. All of these elements share their edges. It may sound metaphysical, but if you’ve ever been swimming at the beach, sun and sky and sea and self do seem to meld.
Gullow’s previous solo show, Relics, portrayed the evidence of human gesture, or the relics, but without the people. “Objects fill our lives. Many of them will remain after we are gone,” Gullow wrote in her artist’s statement for Relics. “The documentation of manufactured items is a documentation of a moment in history. In a few years/months/days these paintings will look outdated, and so they become a marker of time’s passage.”
Speaking in Tongues signals a return, at first take, to the human (and animal) characters common to Gullow’s work prior to Relics. The abstraction and plastic element of still-life portraits seems to have informed the presentation, the “implied background,” against which the people stand.
According to Gullow, “In many ways there is no difference [between the paintings of objects and the paintings of people]. The objects painted in the still lifes are specific portraits of specific objects, things directly in front of me that I have a relationship with. The people on the other hand are referenced from photos and I don’t have a personal connection with them, except for the basic fact that I am a human and so are they.” As with the objects in Relics — a toy dinosaur, a book of matches, a spool of thread, a crumpled soda can — the people are represented vis-à-vis the “relics” of their behavior: a glance, a raised hand, a gesture.
— “Speaking in Tongues”
Is Gullow painting in tongues?
“I don’t want to say ‘yes,’ necessarily, because there are formal elements being worked out consciously,” she said. “However, when the process becomes intuitive, it is like channeling something.”
Speaking in tongues, as an act, provides another example of — fasten your skulls — the abstract elements of concrete forms demonstrated through concrete abstractions. Perhaps it’s better if Gullow explains the show’s title herself. “I researched what speaking in tongues is all about. Basically, it’s a nonsensical abstract language coming from a higher place. I see the creative process as that. The language is universal.” Gullow sees parallels between such unbridled speech and the scope of her painting. “When you hear people speaking in tongues, it’s a very abstract sound, but there are familiar inflictions of voice, familiar sounds, syllables, and words,” she said. “In my work there are abstractions, and yet I hope something more universal is being communicated.”
Speaking in Tongues runs through July 30 at Atelier 24, 24 Lexington Ave. 505-3663. http://www.atelier24lexington.com