I’m squeamish about revisiting all the sketchbooks and journals from my early years, when I had no idea what art was about but still had a peculiar desire to be an artist. Like Gerhard Richter and Jasper Johns, I’m inclined to take a box cutter to the oldest work and toss it in a dumpster. Alicia Gibson, a 35-year-old artist who graduated from Hunter’s MFA program in 2009, on the other hand, has created the illusion of using her old composition books, sketches, and diaries as fodder for a new series of raucous paintings, on display at Canada through May 1.
The press release intones:
Let us take you back, or maybe if you were never there, let us explain it to you. What it means to be a girl who is imprisoned by the institution, the rules, a particular length of skirt you can get away with before expulsion or detention. Maybe you can hide a t-shirt with some image on it underneath the white shirt of your uniform? Everything else is swirling inside the mind and desperate to get out….Here we have invention living inside a bell jar, the atmosphere dark and stormy and everyone’s experience symbolic and interchangeable. Every sticker, every admissions stub, every receipt is a memory and in Gibson’s work these signifiers: ”pink luster”, ”admit one”, ”make offer”, ”straight 2 voicemail”, ”do over in morning”, describe the feelings and the visuals so perfectly. We have spent time with Alicia hearing about her experiences that informed these paintings. Each one is rooted in something that actually happened. This isn’t some made-up character being utilized to explore the greater themes of femininity, this is a person, a soul, whose sensitivity is simply more nuanced and profound.
The paintings have a liberated, painterly brio, and the bright-eyed confidence of an artist seeking to internalize her experience in full. In many ways, she is a female version of Todd Bienvenu, non-judgementally recording her most candid or vividly embarrassing thoughts and moments on canvas. In that sense, the paintings do capture something of what the world was like when we were young: unedited, shambolic, exuberant. Yet despite the energetic paint handling, the images lack mystery and weight. They are overt and obvious. These too are qualities of youth. Perhaps someday an older Gibson, like Agnes Martin, who bought back her early pre-grid work and burned it, will track these paintings down and do the same. But they are honest, personal, and, for now, they work for her.
“Alicia Gibson: Purgatory Emporium,” CANADA, LES, New York, NY. Through May 1, 2016
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