Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Woods working

City Gallery
994 State St., New Haven, (203) 782-2489
Nancy Eisenfeld: Out of the Woods
Through Mar. 29, 2008.

Over the past couple of years, Nancy Eisenfeld has been showing works in various local shows that blur the boundaries between collage, painting and sculpture. Out of the Woods at City Gallery in New Haven is Eisenfeld's first solo show of this body of work, and it's a great one.

For an artist who has worked predominantly in two dimensions, Eisenfeld's branching out—so to speak—into sculpture is a successful aesthetic turn. While each piece has its own individual identity, there is an energetic coherence to the show. Eisenfeld has been "out in the woods" scavenging wood and bark, vines, branches and metal screening. Elements of play go into her compositions, arranging and rearranging her materials, riffing off the natural forms and their processed and manufactured analogues.

"Wizard" looks like a giant walking stick. Thick, tightly interwoven vines are topped by a pockmarked piece of driftwood. This driftwood head or crown is styled with ultramarine and cobalt blue paint and pastels. Eisenfeld has integrated the vines, which have a strong swirling visual drive upwards, with the driftwood by dabbing the clipped shoots of the vine with blue and scarlet paint. A brown length of twine is also interpolated into the sinuous curves of the vines. Large spikes of painted wood near the top recapitulate the visual element of the blue and red clipped shoots.

Abstract use of color ties together a large sculptural work like "Whirly Wind Up"—wooden cable spools, painted with splotches of green, bronze and copper, form a trunk around which spirals of vine and copper tubing whirl—and "Over Time," which is more of a flat, mixed-media collage. "Over Time" incorporates birch bark, paper, wood and metal in a jittery gridwork.

As with so many of the pieces here, "Over Time" is notable for a complexity that is fastidious without becoming fussy. There is a rewarding density of visual expression—the variation between the natural and human-made surfaces, paint that is applied heavy and dry versus paint with a fluid translucency. The piece is actually composed of two collaged panels set side by side. Thin curls of string sprout from all along the edges, like tendrils of new branches springing forth from a seemingly dormant trunk.

In "Forest Totem," Eisenfeld cobbles together a blend of curved copper-colored mesh that creates a three-dimensional cross-hatching effect, painted paper, curls of weathered birch bark (some of it decorated with tight tufts of browning moss) and old torn lengths of wood trim. She has arranged and painted these materials—or left some in the state as she found them—in such a way as to allow disparate parts to become an aesthetic whole.

Even the four works that are closest in conception to traditional abstract painting—"Wired," "Night Light," "Glow" and "Soot"—have been engaged with in such a way as to be completely at home in this show.

The elements that make "Over Time" successful are characteristic of this work. The natural and the processed are combined to create something that is both obviously the product of a conscious mind but also appears to have taken on a life of its own, both literally as well as figuratively.

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