Nancy Natale’s new series of paintings, exhibited in the current show at the Gallery at R&F, instill a sense of vertigo. Each square panel is covered with strips containing words in bold black and white or bright colors, arranged in colliding diagonals. Collaged from magazines, children’s books and other print sources and embellished with applications of tinted encaustic, the works resemble aerial views from a tilting jet. It’s a map of babble that’s loud but meaningless, exuberant but vacant, as if visual media has run amok, swallowing whole cities. A virtual world turned inside out with nothing left to refer to except itself.
Because Natale, who lives and works in Massachusetts, repurposes the old-fashioned medium of print in her bricolage constructions, the pieces have a kind of retro glamour, a quaint stylishness: the bold typefaces, sharp contrasts and bright colors of her found materials hark back to an ad culture fast becoming defunct. While in some instances the type is arranged upside down — a strategy to further obfuscate the specific references and meanings — in other cases the snippets recombine in absurd, sometimes witty utterances that reveal the culture’s dangerous disjunctions. For example, in one piece the viewer makes out “My bed is like a little boat” just above the word “handguns.”
Dominating this succinct show are two large diptychs that reference the “queen” in the show’s title, “Of Cabbages andQueens” (taken from a Lewis Carroll poem). One is a vivid red and pink piece plastered with images of Renaissance monarchs, movie stars, stateswomen, feminists and disco divas; the other is a moody work in black, blue and brown honoring Etta James. In the former piece, it’s amazing how the raw materials of print, paint and encaustic create an effect of orange-red neon.
One of the fascinations of Natale’s work is how hand-made craft and low-tech materials — tacks, wax, and tar paper in the “Running Stitches” series, which make up the bulk of the remaining works — is used to suggest electronic media and electrical circuits. Eschewing digital media herself, Natale makes art that nonetheless plays off timely associations.
A piece the artist refers to as the “black one,” for example — a mostly black diptych of quiescent, horizontal geometries enlivened by rhythmic eruptions of cool blues and greens and pale neutrals — is constructed of tar paper tacked into panels collaged with spines of books and treated aluminum. In the other Running Stitch pieces, Natale punches up the color. The deep, translucent quality of the encaustic colors in one piece are like stained glass and the German Expressionist paintings of Roualt; in others the reds and yellows suggest city lights on a rainy night.
Natale’s assemblages are quilt-like in their construction, but not in sensibility. In their evocations of black leather andTimes Square, clubs and marquees, the blues and television they are a millennium jump away from the quilting bee.
Natale, however, acknowledges the influence of African quilts, whose combination of “intention and irregularities” she emulates by creating geometric patterns that mix symmetry with the syncopated. Her approach is more painterly in a small piece called Blur, and she used bits of inner tubing, fabric, netting, cardboard, and yoga mat in a work whose simplicity, symmetry, neutral coloration and texture suggest African masks.
Hardy’s headless subversives
One Mile, a small gallery located in a brick building just beyond the railroad trestle on Abeel Street, is exhibiting paintings of headless nudes by Philip Hardy. Hardy, who earned an MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2009, adopts the subject matter and language of French academic and Italian baroque art for his own subversive ends. Isolated and spotlighted against a dark background, the nudes, portrayed either singly or in groups, are muscled, fleshly forms. In some cases they are depicted as fragments, recalling broken ancient Greek statuary or Rembrandt’s sides of beef.