ITHACA, NY -- Distilling collaged photographs of her daily routine, painter Jennifer Small creates brightly colored, angular abstractions that aim to recapture the essence of ordinary seeing. Recalling the roots of modern abstract art in Cubism’s reconstruction of the quotidian, her work fuses freely invented hues onto shapes and patterns that offer a lingering sense of the tangibly real.
The Wilmington, Delaware painter is the subject of a current solo show at Corners Gallery. “Mundane Marvels: Paintings by Jennifer Small” (Sept. 25 – Nov. 6) features 11 modestly sized acrylic paintings on canvas, wooden panel, and paper attached to panel. They share space well with the living room — Corners’ design shop branch — while commanding attention with their own sense of presence and invention. (Small is herself a graphic designer and it’s hard not to see the discipline of her day job in these tightly arranged works.)
Small engages a tradition of “hard edge” abstraction that incorporates a subtle painterliness — often contrasting more emphatically brushed areas with more flatly rendered backdrops. In addition to acrylic, she uses spray paint in several of her pieces here to create gradients of color. Her paper on panel pieces contain areas of soft-touch watercolor. Nonetheless, the overall effect here is hard, flat, and clear with the varied paint textures incorporated in a manner akin to collage.
“Snowy Rooftops and Unused Railings” is a particularly striking piece, with rich color and dynamic geometry. The 12x9 inch panel is typical in size for this show. An Indian yellow background spills over the edges (like all of the pieces, unframed). A bent pillar, fluorescent pink, juts in from the upper left. Bold red and blue lines — diagonal and curved — create a striking visual rhythm. Pale green and orange shards come in from the right as if trying to gang up on the pink tube. A fragment of sky blue hitting the lower right corner has been sprayed with a rusty orange—hinting at the natural landscape.
Using the same media, “Bright Shadows” and “Morning Sun on the Counter,” are also highlights. Burning pink and red, a chilly pale yellow, and a deep, arboreal green accent the more neutral hues of the former piece. “Sun” bends and twists in on itself with strong red and green armature lines snaking through bent planes of cool gray, pale and dark greens, bubblegum pink, and an area striped beige and dark.
I was unable to identify any of the source material that Small uses for her paintings. (Apparently the artist prefers to transform her private memories of place to the point of unrecognizability for the purposes of her public art.) Nevertheless, these paintings have a distinctly urban quality, evocative of the strong artificial colors and vertiginous spaces of the modern city. Her work suggests a 21st century analog to American Cubist Stuart Davis, whose paintings captured the New York City of the past century with a distinct palette but with a similar nervous energy.
Strong, inventive artists benefit from comparison to other strong, inventive artists doing similar or related work. Opening this Friday at the Petrune, painter Domenica Brockman — who co-owns the downtown boutique and who has also shown at Corners — will be showing a selection of her recent painterly geometric abstractions. It is hard to predict all her latest but word has it that she will be showing painted collages as well as her signature encaustic (wax paint) on panel works.
Brockman offers a more pared down approach to both color and shape in most of her work than Small. She often works with only two or just a few tones, often black and white with perhaps a strong color or metallic thrown in. Likewise, her geometric and curvilinear forms lay flatly and calmly on her surfaces rather than jostling against each other more dimensionally like Small’s. Finally, the local painter’s color-areas tend toward a grungier texture and feel, which contrasts with Small’s bright cleanliness.