Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

Yvonne Jacquette: Arrivals and Departures at DC Moore Gallery

Until April 22
724 Fifth Avenue at 57 Street, 212 247 2111

Yvonne Jacquette Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, with Water Towers II 2005 oil on canvas, 71 x 62-1/2 inches Courtesy DC Moore Gallery
Yvonne Jacquette, Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, with Water Towers II 2005 oil on canvas, 71 x 62-1/2 inches Courtesy DC Moore Gallery

The paintings of Yvonne Jacquette are at once immensely likeable and seriously odd.  There is a compelling sense of presentness in her density of color and form, quirky and chirpy, and yet they are weirdly alienating precisely thanks to the same manic qualities. Such dichotomies in Ms. Jacquette ultimately relate to a single contradiction at the heart of her enterprise: She is a realist who loves artifice.

You sense the artist’s hand in the personal, invested manner in which the picture is crafted from myriad little marks, for instance, in forms drawn with awkward feeling, and yet there is a peculiar perfunctoriness in the delivery, a depersonalization in the unrelenting alloverness, an outsider-like compulsion to fill.  It is as if she has a horror vacui that leads her to pack her surfaces, and yet in her addiction to spatial complexities and fearless social explorations of land usage there is almost the opposite, an amor vacui.

Wheter painting urban or agrarian locations, day or night, crowded or vacant, Ms. Jacquette is an empiricist.  Her studio paintings are built up from pencil drawings made in situ.  Her calling is the aerial view, gained from a skyscraper or an airplane.  She dips the viewer into familiar urban landmarks like Times Square or Philadelphia’s Logan Circle, but at such a novel angle, and with a relentless democracy of the flattened picture surface that admits no hierarchy and treats everything seen with equal attention and exactitude, that these scenes are defamiliarized. Or the opposite can happen: She will take on anonymous strip malls or efficiently farmed fields, but in discovering readymade abstractions in the arrangements of lights and the demarcations of spaces the banal is rendered exotic.

Her relentless feathery marks have something of the gorgeous nuttiness of Van Gogh, with whom she also shares a genuine orientalism.  This comes across in the way she captures panoramic spaces without submitting to western conventions of perspective.  Instead, as in “Lower Manhatten and New Jersey, with Water Towers II,” (2005) , she achieves a sense of convincing volumes in deep space through geometric patterning.

The naivite in Ms. Jacquette might have something to do with a handwriting: it is as if she writes in single letters that don’t join up.  Her touch—restrained but firm—has character without being emphatic or expressive.  Her notation also varies across a picture, and between works, as in “Above Times Square,” (2003) where it can convey different materials, like concrete, drapery, metal or brick.  There are local improvisations to do with texture in contrast, say, to the Seurat’s pointillism, which is consistently about sight, suggesting that the tactile is as important to Ms. Jacquette as the perceptual.

The surface isn’t ethereal and smooth, and yet it isn’t impastoed and painterly either.  We don’t see through the medium to the scene being depicted, but nor does the surface really have a life of its own.  The real and the artificial are kept in permenant check and balance.  Nathan Kernan, writing in the catalogue, notes the strange double life of her brushmarks.  They are true to themselves, retaining individuality rather than losing themselves in a painterly meld.  And yet they often seem like things other than paint marks, whether recalling embroidery threads or the linocut gougings.

It is printmaker’s marks such as these that directly bring early Twentieth-Century interpreters of the city like Ludwig Meidner to mind, adding another layer of complexity to her images, giving a period feel to clash with their contemporaneity, making her at once fresh and sylized (again, in a very Japanese way.)  Ms. Jacquette loves to use her linocut-like “grooves” to depict artificial lights on wet roads, as in “Third Avenue (with Reflection) II,” (2003) where car lights compete with road markings to define the streets.

Ms. Jacquette is the widow of the photographer Rudy Burckhardt, and it has often been noted how her all encompassing yet dispassionate composed slices of the real are influenced by photography.  A more striking affinity than the poetic Burckhardt in these latest paintings, monumental as they are alike in scale and scope, are such contemporary panoramic photographers as Andreas Gursky and Robert Polidori, with their awesome balance of detail and totality, their way of finding a hidden order in human accumulations.

Aerial perspectives, naturally more dramatic in an airplane, as in “Napa  Valley Composite II,” (2005) give Ms. Jacquette unprecedented potential for what should be contradictory qualities in a composition: expansiveness and cropping.  The edges, accentuated by the odd angles at which she sees the uneven, undulating ground, seem arbitrary and sudden, and yet there is a vast expanse contained within these intrusive boundaries.  It gives a highly contemporary sense of magnitude to her vision.  But then, within that macroscope her peculiar system of notation disconcertingly draws upon the microscopic.  She can achieve through touch what photographers require technological precision for: a weirdly displaced sense of intimacy that only serves to accentuate remoteness.

Yvonne Jacquette Walmart and Other "Big Box" Stores, Augusta, ME II 2006 oil on canvas, 58 x 69-3/4 inches Courtesy DC Moore Gallery
Yvonne Jacquette, Walmart and Other "Big Box" Stores, Augusta, ME II 2006 oil on canvas, 58 x 69-3/4 inches Courtesy DC Moore Gallery

The way in which, in painterly terms, Ms. Jacquette “builds” or “grows” her pictures directly mimics the actual architecture or nature she depicts.  The ziggurat skyscraper in “Above Times Square” for instance looks almost as if each stroke is a masonry block; they join together in a hand-crafted kind of way giving the kind of undulating wobble to the structure that puts the viewer into an almost primitive state of sympathy with the built envirnonment.  This might explain how it is that the paintings can seen naïve and yet have an incredible sense of the real that would be lacking in more photorealist precisionism.

The most recently completed painting in the show, “Walmart and Other ‘Big Box’ Stores, Augusta ME II,” (2006), is the most real and the most artificial at the same time, and in that respect is true to the grim unreality it depicts: the inane, gormless sprawl of suburban shopping outlets.   One might guess that as a Buddhist, an artist, and a longtime summer resident of Maine, Ms. Jacquette’s heart must sink at the despoilation of her adoptive state, and yet, perhaps, true to her faith and calling, there is a nonjudgemental discovery of hidden orders of meaning in her motif.  The synthetic colors and complex abstract grids imposed by brash neon and burgeoning parking lots are spread on ground that pulls up vertically to the aerial gaze like a canvas on which artifice and reality merge.

A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, March 23, 2006