Alice Denison: Mal de Fleur
Ed Stitt: Walking Distance
Sept 3 – 28 at Gallery NAGA
Alice Denison’s new paintings, all titled Pangloss, explode with energy and extravagance. Ornately rendered plants and flowers, floating on top of darker backgrounds as if they were sewn into tapestries, appear otherworldly, with a dreamlike rendering unlike most grounded still lifes. While ostensibly decorative, the paintings reward prolonged inspection.
The title of the exhibition, Mal de Fleur, is a reference to Baudelaire’s Mal de Mer, the expression for seasickness. Denison uses this reference to play with the idea of “flower seasickness,” or the over abundance of flowers.
In a statement for the exhibition, Denison writes,
Up until the fall of 2016, I had been working with enthusiasm on paintings that were heavily patterned and exuberant; in November I faced a crisis and couldn’t go on. I was again wrestling with this:
What is the point of making the kind of work I make in the kind of world I’m in?
Months later I visited Lisbon, where I was reintroduced to the history of November 1, 1755—All Saints Day—when an enormous earthquake struck the city followed by tsunamis and a fire, all but destroying it. I reread Candide, which Voltaire wrote in response to the disaster. In this satire, Dr. Pangloss is Candide’s mentor, who teaches him that everything happens for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. Candide struggles to apply his mentor’s philosophy, through mostly hideous and violent adventures. Ultimately, Candide rejects his mentor’s philosophy and adopts this one: tend to your own garden.
The Pangloss paintings are influenced by Candide, the spirit of Gaudi’s Park Guell, and tapestries and frescos. I’ve always been drawn to mille fleurs backgrounds. The plants are real—that is, they are meant to be identifiable—but they are coming out of my head. They are painted in overlapping layers, out of scale, and all in bloom at once—because why not plant everywhere?
Ed Stitt uses light and color to transform commonplace urban environments. Stitt’s paintings of alleys and buildings near his studio, in Boston’s Fenway Studios building, glory in a celebration of architectural detail and the overlapping decline and renewal of city surfaces.
In addition to his on-site painting of urban landscapes, Stitt also works in the countryside, where towering trees and open fields make for compositions quite unlike his tight city spaces. In these paintings we see the painter Stitt might be if he weren’t so in love with Boston’s highways and byways.
In a statement for the exhibition, Stitt writes,
Seldom is the time when we just look about us at the beauty that is all around; the sun rising through multi-colored morning clouds bubbling up on the horizon, illuminating old brick architectural decorations from decades or centuries ago, casting long blue shadows that blur into soft, warm penumbras the further they are cast from their source… Everyday objects; buildings, trees, sidewalks, the mundane stuff of life, lit from the side or above, sometimes by gold, sometimes by blue, revealing surprising shadow shapes, innumerable tones, intensities and values of colors…
My paintings are about that. About the real stuff of life that we encounter every day, the mundane things and places, what they actually look like, how beautiful it all really is. As I walk about my life, I try to be observant, I try to notice. Sometimes I see things that just look great, and if I keep remembering that scene or object or light, I wonder if it might make a good painting. All of the paintings in this show are things I discovered within walking distance of my home or studio. By painting I slow down and notice… and how complicated and intricate it all is! These take months, sometime years, to “finish,” yet I could go on forever.