Maybe travelling in the passenger seat of a car on a bright day, you squeeze your eyes shut against the glare of a persistent sunbeam. Behind your eyelids, fiery spaces flare — green, gold or magenta reactions to the very thing you are trying to shut out. Your brain tries to map this non-stimulus into a space — but where are you, really?
In “This is Elsewhere” at Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia painter Jackie Tileston presents a compelling suite of canvases that hover in the space between landscape and abstraction. Veering between delicate shimmer, razor precision, gestural brushstrokes and photo transfer, the paintings work because of Tileston’s ability to forge extreme tension between disparate elements and marks in each work.
The paintings feature atmospheric, iridescent backgrounds with blooming clouds of dry pigment, defining a strange tableau in which, as the artist wrote for a previous exhibition, “the real, imaginary, and symbolic form a hybrid space.” These colors, shimmering and lush, evoke Redon’s turn-of-the-century paintings and pastels, or JMW Turner’s seascapes as much as the Monet field paintings that she points to as an influence on this body of work.
The paintings do read as opulent — yet it’s clear that the painter is after something more. Against the lush backgrounds, flat graphic or gestural applications of enamel invoke mandala, and half-revealed photo transfers reflect the carousel of places Tileston’s lived. Her paintings seize many spaces, both cultural and visual, and force them together within the picture plane.
For example, in Indeterminate Navigation Space (above), a deliberately incongruous jagged rainbow meanders across a blue, green and gold supernova. Its hard edges and angles flatten the image, but when it’s broken by an iridescent spill of blue paint, we’re back in the depths again. In Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions, delicate red and white enameled patterns emerge from a roiling tumult of gold, blue and white, somehow both holding their own against and defining the chaos of the rest of the canvas.
It might be tempting to lump Tileston’s work together with Matthew Ritchie’s Particle Gardens, Franz Ackermann’s Mental Maps, Ati Maier’s airbrushed roller-coaster cosmologies or Roberto Matta’s Inscapes, but Tileston reserves an ethereal, tightly reined chaos in these works that is purely her own. Considering these works is like walking into a painterly badlands, with one part of each painting’s surface remaining visually suspended (either via the use of shapes with sharply defined edges or different materials like enamel) while everything around it crumbles into chaos.
While not exactly landscape, Tileston’s work undeniably has a spatial, topographic element, and Christine Pfister, who runs Pentimenti, has cleverly paired it with a sister show — “Unsolicited,” Francesca Pastine’s X-Acto dissections of contemporary-art periodical Artforum.
Artforum, if you’re not familiar, is kind of like the art-world Vogue, in that its editorial pages of writing and photo spreads are at least matched in number by tons of gorgeous, luxe-y advertisements in brilliant colors. Pastine’s “excavations” take advantage of the magazine’s square format and high-production-value colors: She fans out pages beyond the glossy’s border and razors away some colored layers of pages to reveal others underneath. The thick, cut-paper layers, stacked into topographic masses, are a clear complement to Tileston’s paintings.
Pastine’s cutaways interact with the magazines’ cover images, which the artist considers a “unsolicited collaboration” between herself, the magazine and the artist featured on the cover. Unlike the found-book interventions of Ishmael Randall Weeks, these works don’t feel like a meditation on geography, architecture, colonization or political space. Rather, Pastine’s altered magazines feel like a fun diorama/valentine to the art world — an externally localized topographic fun-fair that pairs well with Tileston’s introverted universes.
Through Dec. 15, Jackie Tileston, This is Elsewhere and Francesca Pastine, Unsolicited, Pentimenti Gallery, 145 N. Second St., 215-625-9990, pentimenti.com.