530 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
February 24 to March 26, 2005
On September 6, 1522, Victoria, Ferdinand Magellan’s tar-encrusted, worm-eaten but once-proud flagship sailed into the bay of San Lúcar, Spain, thus completing the first circumnavigation of the globe. Some believed her arrival signaled the end of the Age of Exploration, but contrary to their expectations, similarly epochal discoveries continue today. Soon, we will need to stretch our world view to accommodate robot soldiers, sub-cellular micro-machines and maybe even life on Mars.
To warm up for these mental gymnastics, you might consider viewing Heide Trepanier’s paintings at Stux Gallery on 25th Street. Her drippy, suggestive and excretory biomorphic forms hint at the existence of as-yet-unexplored places both infinitesimal and vast. The paintings look like Seussian snapshots of an unknown, but not unbelievable, world Trepanier has found. In the gallery foyer, the tone of the show is set by Party Hag, an installation piece whose title brings it to a personal, slightly raunchy level, but doesn’t strip it of otherworldliness.
In the main gallery there are numerous canvases filled with similar imagery in a range of sizes and hues. Each composition appears to have been derived through a somewhat freeform process in which the artist drips, dollops and drizzles acrylic paint of varying viscosities and colors onto a monochromatic ground. The resulting tangle of webby nets, knobby splotches and vaguely ejaculatory splashes is then embellished with black outlines that give the work a cartoonish feel. But beware, the silly or comic ideas the Disney-esque outlining may invoke belie the violence and carnality that are the real subjects here.
Indeed, titles like Fatalist, Vomitorium and Blowhard Skin Dealer indicate Trepanier’s seriousness. The forms in her paintings grapple ferociously, smashing and surging against one another in a ballet of lust and carnage. In her artist’s statement, she declares her pours and swirls to be “psychological prosthetics” that “act the way [she would] like to but wouldn’t dare.” They “have orgies, rip each other apart,” and generally appear to be exercising the animal instincts they were born with.
Clearly, Trepanier possesses instincts of her own which show in her ability to manipulate her materials. The works are attractively lyrical, both graphically and colortistically. Yet this show is more than a display of dexterity; through an editing process in which she emphasizes certain shapes, and relationships between shapes, over others, the artist implies specific narratives that impart to each painting a personality of its’ own. This is no small feat and especially remarkable given the repetition of both motif and technique the artist uses to achieve it. Trepanier has managed to extract a surprising amount of mileage from simple technical means.
But has she been ambitious enough in exploring the world she has worked so hard to uncover? She appears to be sailing in the same waters she familiarized us with in paintings of a few years ago—but has the wind left her sails? The figure-ground tack she is on here has not changed much since her last show at Stux. The characters in paintings such as The Pig, the Snake and the Cock, as interesting as they are, have not evolved significantly from their forebears in earlier shows. While it is nice for an artist when a formula works, it is problematic when the works become formulaic. Trepanier has reached such a crux. Perhaps she should consider trading her prosthetics for the actual—ripping apart her subject matter and having an orgy of paint could re-awaken her sense of discovery and open up some more new worlds.
After all, if Magellan, instead of tenaciously pursuing his quest to find a water route to the Spice Islands, had hung out with King Charles re-hashing earlier voyages, nothing would have been gained. Trepanier has begun an interesting painting journey and for further discoveries should keep adding spice of her own.