Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"A Twist" and shout

City Gallery
994 State St., New Haven, (203) 782-2489
Nancy Eisenfeld: A Twist
Mar. 3—27, 2011.

Nancy Eisenfeld's works are deeply connected to nature. This connection to nature and the environment expressed both through her imagery and—in the case of her sculptural and assemblage works—juxtapositions and through the materials she employs. Those materials include the traditional ones of paper, ink and paint as well as found objects both natural and manufactured. A Twist, Eisenfeld's solo exhibit at City Gallery, showcases drawings, sculptural works and pieces that incorporate both two- and three-dimensional elements.

An obvious example is "Bark Bitter & Sweet." As with many of her recent sculptural works, Eisenfeld has stories to tell about how the materials came her way. In this case, the jagged shards of glass are from a broken mirror from her studio; the tall pieces of ragged bark were stripped off a tree struck by lightning.

"I think the materials, if they're not given to me as a present, come to me out of need," Eisenfeld tells me as I survey the show.

With "Bark Bitter & Sweet," Eisenfeld juxtaposes wide collaged strips of bark standing some 8—9 feet high with a plexiglas panel etched on the back and rubbed with black paint. The effect is that of a drawing on Plexiglas with swirls of smoky gray and snaking lines of force. Pieces of the mirror are adhered in two vertical veins the length of the open bark. Smaller shards of the mirror glass are attached to the Plexiglas in such a way as to suggest the idea of a spray of debris.

Works like these are open to multiple interpretations. On the most immediate level, it suggests the violent rending of the tree at the moment of the lightning's impact. But it could also allude to broader environmental questions or even to emotional states, depending on what the viewer brings to the experience. The fact that the shattered glass is from a mirror rather than a transparent pane adds to the symbolic resonance: The viewer sees oneself in the vortex of natural, manufactured and hand-worked elements.

Even when referencing such ugly realities as industrial pollution or oil spills, there is great beauty in these works. A solitary smokestack in "Air Particles"—a drawing in white on black paper—is the source for a richly detailed miasma of dots, lines and vapor.

With "Oil Spill," composed with black ink on a tall sheet of mylar, Eisenfeld couples control with chance to evoke the thin line between normality and catastrophe. Black coagulating clouds of ink billow upwards from a thin squat ink blotch three-quarters of the way down from the top. That same ink blotch is repeated eight inches below, a serendipitous rolling of the just-inked mylar back onto itself, according to Eisenfeld. The vagaries of chance play a large part in her work. The unintentional repetition of that shape adds a temporal dimension to "Oil Spill," as though what we are seeing is two consecutive moments in time. One moment everything is fine, all systems (seemingly) under control. In the next moment, the hounds of industrial hell are unleashed.

Contained within this work—actually within most of Eisenfeld's works—is the formal and metaphorical duality of control and chaos.

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