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Holly Sears and Gabe Brown

Metaphor Contemporary Art
382 Atlantic Avenue, 718-254-9126
Brooklyn Misc.
March 14 - April 21, 2007
Reception: Wednesday, March 14, 6 - 9 PM
Web Site

In the polished and highly refined paintings of Holly Sears, we are taken on a nature walk conducted by a surrealist. It is a peaceable kingdom if a strange one in which birds nestle in roses, trees dance, cats take on elephantine proportions, and elephants take on feline ones. The sense of these paintings is the sort of gentle nonsense well recognized by children. They encourage the viewer to take a leap to the other side, where things aren’t always as they seem. Sears’ gentle brand of tightly focused surrealism is deeply rooted in careful and informed observation of the natural world and her superb technique provokes a seamless recognition of the absolute possibility of her images. In her work there is a delicious blending of the deeply magical with the cooly observant eye of the natural scientist.

The critic Dominique Nahas has written that, “So deftly and defiantly does Sears intermingle the fantastic and the factual in her work that the images she comes up with seem not so much to be descriptions as they are transcriptions of the marvelous. We are in an unpopulated world where dream-logic pervades: the contrived and the spontaneous, the prosaic and the miraculous, the arbitrary and the designed co-exist in a state of suspension”. In Tutu a group of sparrows playfully embellish the trunk of their home tree with a skirt woven of fibers, grasses, and flowers urging it to sway.

The mixed animal crew of Big Water drift on still waters through a calm moonlit evening suggesting a group of pilgrims or explorers off in search of new worlds and bringing to mind the 19th century paintings of rivermen by George Caleb Bingham. Indeed, American landscape painting of the 19th century with its clear eyed intimations of the sublime and sense of discovery are an important touchstone for Sears who finds lodged in nature a similar awe and wonder. Sears’ paintings, though, have more to do with the intimate corners of the imagination than with grand vistas, often locating and focusing upon the minute textures or odd details within the larger frame. Anyone who has spent enough time in nature knows that the natural world is full of mysteries. Sears takes this knowledge one step further into the realm of dreams.

Gabe Brown applies an intuitive approach to her investigations of the natural world creating richly layered paintings that combine gestural free association with passages of crisp detail. As a painter she is interested in process, in the way things work, the way things are made. In her images this is reflected in her use of a varied set of painterly techniques to approximate natural and evolutionary processes. For Brown paint takes on the quality of primal clay from which an infinite range of shapes and forms can emerge. From slurried grounds of earthy color bright patches might coalesce into cells, seeds or streams. Plant forms take root with traced lines that can suggest the diagram of a family tree or a chemical notation. Exhalations rise into colored bubbles of birdsong. Utilizing such disparate clusterings of information which share both depictive and abstract, cognitive and noncognitive qualities, Brown creates painterly rebuses that tease the mind. Her choice of title for this group of work, `Small History’, is as layered as the work itself. Is she referring to the generally modest proportions and archeologic character of her paintings, or, as her interest in natural imagery might indicate, is she linking her work and its processes to the larger ongoing creative forces that shape our planet and fill it with life? Either way Brown serves her thoughts in delectable morsels that merge a keen sense of whimsy with more profound considerations.
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