Contributed by Zach Seeger / It would seem inevitable that artists would begin to synthesize the past 14 months of substantial lockdown into work that seeks to make sense of shared collective and personal trauma. Many artists’ practices rely heavily on their interpersonal engagement. During the height of the pandemic, they still plied their craft in the hope that, upon reopening, the art world would reinstate their social agency. Inevitably, though, some of these artists’ practices slowed, and their work has become less about production and more about reflection, observation, and perception. Ashley Garrett was perhaps better able to take the pandemic in stride. For years, her painting has focused on visual phenomena that occur in the natural world and arise in the process of painting. Garrett’s approach is attentive and omnipresent, with a sensitivity that allows form to reveal itself in elegantly emotive terms. Her show “Meadow” at Gold Scopophilia in Montclair, New Jersey, is a tour de force of observational call-and-response painting.
Everything is carefully observed and documented, each piece displaying a carefully honed world where forms occupy a specific place. Color, paint, and brushstrokes are not theatrically determined through tumult, but rather stoically occupy a space that declares their existence. Garrett’s palette coolly twinkles blue, flickering with Northern Light-like lanterns and anchored by an orange cinnabar force field. Clustered forms are loosely arranged, either freshly converging or on the cusp of unraveling.
While her pieces do evoke painting’s brushy history, from Monet’s footbridge to Joan Mitchell’s Grande Vallée, Garrett employs a language that is completely her own. She articulates her landscapes with lyrical abstraction, rendering elemental forms that predate our engagement with them. They work not so much to reflect Garrett’s personal emotions (as they centrally do for so many painters of weather), but instead to state facts: these are the parts of the whole, and they make up what we are looking at.
The small scale of the majority of the work nicely serves the pastoral concept of the meadow: a place of respite, slowed time, and stable form seen through a pinhole into a complete world. So often when attempting to paint nature, a painter defaults to a gestalt computation of blade, stem, or flower. It’s all too easy to fall lazily into caricature and rely merely on pattern recognition. Garrett reverse-engineers this process to eloquent effect, and her intense reveal of the transformation of paint to form is riveting. The experience is reminiscent of the dynamics of Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Seveneves, in which the intense articulation of engineering processes turns routine functions into life-and-death drama.
Garrett’s paintings are episodic and timeless, and, somewhat paradoxically, they function most expansively on the smaller scale. Brushstrokes dance and congregate, much like Redon at his most blazingly radiant. Amplifying the power of Garrett’s paintings is the economy of her brushstrokes: while lyrical and lush, they are carefully calibrated. Yet there remains an athleticism to her painting rooted in the practice of seeing and experiencing what is unfolding in front of her. The meadow is opened before us, inviting us to share its beauty and truth.
“Ashley Garrett: Meadow,” Gold/Scopophilia*, 594 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ. Through June 5, 2021.
About the Author: Zach Seeger is a painter, sculptor, and writer working in Brooklyn and upstate New York. He received his BFA from Binghamton University and MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has exhibited at Arts + Leisure and Freight + Volume galleries, Crush Curatorial, stARTup Fair LA, Artspace Tetra (in Fukoka, Japan), Life on Mars Gallery, Room 482, and Ortega y Gasset Projects. He is a regular contributor for Two Coats of Paint and teaches painting and drawing at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.