The Corners Gallery in Cayuga Heights continues its program of ambitious and large-scale exhibitions. On view a little longer (until April 15), two solo exhibitions: “Recent Paintings + Stitchery by Rachel Dickinson” and “From Life: Paintings by Lin Price”. Both artists are based near Ithaca and both are familiar faces at the gallery.
Dickinson, best known for her non-fiction writing, is new to the visual arts. Last year in Corners she saw her first exhibition of paintings. Painted in oils on small panels and hung in the Salon style, her “dwellings” explored everyday domestic life in a time that some of us experienced enforced but perhaps not entirely undesirable isolation. Inspired by the work of the great American painter Fairfield Porter, Dickinson’s paintings are endearing, if sometimes clumsy.
There are some – too few – of his recent small paintings here. Most compelling is “Lightkeeper’s House, Monhegan” which convincingly depicts light and shadow on the side of a quaint seaside house.
In keeping with the eclectic spirit of Corners, “Recent” focuses on a very different body of work. Featuring embroidered designs on linen mounted on small panels, Dickinson’s embroideries combine a domestic twee sensibility with surreal imagery. With hand-stitched lines and applied scraps of fabric in subdued colors set against white scarf-like rectangles, these aim for an understated yet decidedly contemporary subversion of traditionally feminine craftsmanship.
Echoing the presentation of his paintings last year, an irregularly suspended wall offers many variations. Free explorations of lines, textures and decorative patterns merge with distinctive personal iconography: sea animals, spiders and insects, flowers, leaves and what look like fungal or microbial forms.
Three larger, straight pieces on silk, hand-dyed by a friend of the artist, are Dickinson’s most captivating pieces here, giving him room to stretch his imagination. “What World is This” is particularly rich, with its mottled background of brown on a white background and its whimsical animated topography: part map, part aquarium.
Price, on the other hand, is a painter with decades of experience. She is a retired teacher – and former art student – at Ithaca College. In her oil paintings on canvas, she aims to juxtapose an everyday realism, often inspired by her rural home in Danby, with colors and painterly mannerisms derived from abstract painting. There’s an undeniable wit and charm to this fusion – the puns and shifts it creates between these two seemingly incompatible modes. You sometimes wish she would push her talents and focus more in one direction or the other.
It’s a difficult game to play – a game that proponents of abstraction and realism may find principled reason to be wary of. Abstract painting characteristically leans towards flatness and frontality, while realism generally aims to create a dimensional world one might imagine entering.
Typically, Price portrays human or animal figures, often adopted from his own life, as unwitting explorers of this terra incognita. Often they find their footing in more loosely brushed patches of paint: a common feature of expressionism, both abstract and otherwise. Although the artist has denied any interest in traditional or linear storytelling, these are unmistakably paintings that tell stories. We are meant to sympathize, as viewers of these paintings, with these characters.
The most striking of Price’s paintings here is “Cork.” In much of his work, abstract color fields, often bright and unnaturalistic, offset figures and other realistic details. Here, the tonal and textural variations of an overall emerald green hue provide an intriguing setting for his narrative. No figures here, but a trio of pink-violet-gray rowboats – occupants or oars absent and eerily adrift on the water, which we watch from above. We’re meant to step in or maybe jump in – imaginatively and metaphorically, to explore those uncharted waters.
‘Search Party’, along with older, previously exhibited ‘River’ and ‘The Jetty’ (the latter on panel), explore similar tensions while adhering more closely to the conventionally flattened space of abstract expressionist painting.
A few lighter efforts complete this modest spectacle. Painted in a heavy-handed palette knife style, “Rise and Shine” imagines a mysteriously vacant bedroom. A series of small, square-shaped pieces in gray are portraits: exploring mood, tone and character.
It’s a mark of ambitious art – some might say art as opposed to craft or craft – that tries things that may not work fully or unambiguously. Price, despite the seemingly mundane quality of some of his observations, is an art that will only be fully grasped by aficionados of painting. That it asks us to laugh at ourselves is the key to its appeal and its limitation.
There is no need to tie together what these two women show here in what are billed as two separate shows. Yet Dickinson, at least in his sewn work, and Price can both be seen as explorers of the strange territory between the everyday and the afterlife.