Contributed by Jonathan Goodman / In “Mettle,” Stacy Lynn Waddell’s expansive show at Candice Madey, the artist embraces different cultures throughout the world: Malian life in the 1960s; nineteenth-century American painting reflecting burgeoning capitalism; and seventeenth-century Dutch flower painting. The title of the show may be a pun on the gold-leaf paintings that make up most of the works on display, which indicate an assessment that the respective cultures she depicts were “golden ages” of a sort. This show’s particular allure stems from the artist’s intelligent use of historical visual art as a starting point. In referencing cultural and social high points that naturally attracted painters, the artist shows how images shape human experience and help us to remember the past.
In her two circular re-imaginings of Robert S. Duncanson’s Landscape with Rainbow (1859), Waddell at once pays homage to a gifted African-American artist active around the time of the Civil War and provides a contemporary treatment of a traditional painting genre. Two-thirds of Landscape with Rainbow after a Celestial Explosion (for R.S.D.) (1859/2021) consists of sky, pale to slate blue, with a set of yellow, luminous clouds that seems to reflect the light that falls just after rain. The bottom third, in brown, depicts hills with a lake; a few trees stand in the center and the lower left. It is a romantic painting that feels organically historical. The companion piece, Landscape with Rainbow and Clouds Shaped like Flowers (After R.S.D.) (1859/2021), shows a landscape much like the first painting described, along with a large upper register of yellow sky, with faint outlines of flowers filling its expanse. The two works originate in the past, but Waddell brings them into the present with vivid energy.
The gold-leaf paintings concerning Mali and the Netherlands consist of bare outlines on a plane of gold, and reward scrutiny both from a single point and from different angles to catch other details of the composition. In The Two of Us Crouching Down with Halos as Hats (1973/2021), two women bend to the ground. Each has one hand on her knee and another on the ground to support her body. Each “wears” a perfectly circular halo, giving her an aura that is fashionable as well otherworldly. Thus, Waddell makes an older image new and perhaps more relatable. In Untitled (Floral Relief 1665) (2021), floral blossoms emerge in very low relief indeed, conveying something elusive but magical about the past.
Reworking old pictures as cues to the present, Waddell moves backwards to jump ahead, capturing and reinforcing the intense current interest in cultural heritage. In so thoughtfully exploring three different cultural vantage points, she seems to subscribe to an inclusive brand of eclecticism – and to exude a refreshingly open and optimistic point of view.
“Stacy Lynn Waddell: Mettle,” Candice Madey, 1 Rivington Street, LES, New York, NY. Through October 16, 2021.
About the author: Jonathan Goodman is an art writer and poet. He currently teaches at Pratt Institute.