Jeanie Riddle

Jeanie Riddle
galerie antoine ertaskiran
March 12–April 19, 2014

For her first solo exhibition, quixotically titled Rough Diamonds, Gold Dust (and quintessentially Riddlesque as such) at this gallery, the artist presented a new series of large paintings, smaller paintings and collages, and a few of her signature architectural and sculptural installations. Riddle floated a domestic ontology that bolsters painting’s central axis, but installation is by no means ancillary here. Whether in painting or installation, her work can be vibrant and exclamatory, and overwhelmingly subtle and nuanced, simultaneously.

In this exhibition, perhaps her best to date, she is at her most generous and assured, moving at will between new paintings of scale, and installations built upon and around deeply personal narratives that speak of a life lived, loss, the domestic and an evangelical lexicon of pure celebration. These latter have earned her well-deserved plaudits. Riddle is at ease in the midst of different mediums, and here she speaks in a voice remarkable for its Deleuzean univocity, whether in prefabricated materials, industrial paint, paint samples and so forth, as abstract emblems of hearth and home, avowal and overcoming.

Riddle says: “Each colour is poised, negotiated and positioned as a potential. I paint and repaint, to tell a different story. It is a narrative of chance, of pain and romance. Nothing moves faster than being in colour. ’’This last line is interesting. Her colours are forever in movement, self-accelerating and they never falter or fall into stasis. And the ‘romance’ in question is abiding and true. The colours in these paintings – the resonant and undeniably inviting yellows, blues, greens and so on – read as the flipside of her much earlier black paintings, but the truth is that they are very similar, after all, boldly declarative and bluntly literal.

Her paintings vary between coronal mass ejections and cloudbursts of spring rain, speaking movingly about mourning and ecstasy and a sacred idea/ideal of domesticity. In oil on canvas works like Everything is Separate, Nothing is Touching, (all works 2014), Rough Diamond, Gold Dust, and I Could Have Loved You Forever A DJ Mix Tape, the artist demonstrates her sumptuous painterly chops with blob-like forms that seem to migrate across the support like ambient sounds from Coltrane’s improvisatory jazz to soul to hip hop and beyond.

Indeed, a breathtaking and even subversive organizational simplicity informs her paintings. Think of John Coltrane’s Ascension (1965), when his music had become abstract and its altissimo register of high notes hovering somewhere above the sax’s natural range held all taut and true. Critic Ira Gitler once characterised Coltrane’s playing as “sheets of sound.”In her paintings, with their migratory forms set against, in flight across or deeply embedded in spare yet voluptuous colour fields, Riddle makes her most boldly assertive declaration of her deep and abiding love of robust form, sheets of colour and exhalations of light.

In the hanging of these paintings and elsewhere in the exhibition, she has exquisitely, and with deft and even minute ambidextrous precision, calibrated the installation as a whole. A pile of her house paint skins harvested from paint cans from the hardware store in one corner read as a pungent epiphany in its own right.

In the large installation BLISS_CPD (Insomnia), Riddle offers a large open box that serves as both fluid frame and fundament yet not environing limit, and she transposes issues of advanced abstract painting into true three-dimensionality – and, well, into the way we live now. The optic inhabits this strange mauve zone like an ethereal aquavit that soaks it with gentle yet strong humidity. The mauve is sensuous, liminal and entirely seductive, in some light almost invisible, at others diaphanous, captivating and, in a strange way, instructive of her intentions and abilities. Resting on the floor of the box in the lower left forward quadrant is Spill (greens), 2013, a truly hallucinatory encounter with the mauve zone of its emplacement.

In the wall-mounted Cabinet, (2013), Riddle offers us a latter-day Cabinet of Curiosities or medicine box containing not a chromatic nostrum, but a healing medley of colour choices as proverbial chips of the raw potential from which all her art springs.

Writing on her Californiainstallation at Circa here in Montreal a few years ago, I suggested that her work carried with it a warm Diablo wind out of Northern California that reached gale force in the midst of an arctic Montreal winter. Here, she duplicated the feat as Montreal lurched through the last sour act of an unforgiving season.

Also of note were the surprising and welcome presence of small structural collages, highly charged, but as reduced and powerful in their mien as anything else shown here – conceptual templates for larger works, perhaps? They opened windows on the artist’s process-based approach, and were executed while on a recent residency at Triangle Arts, DUMBO, Brooklyn. They demonstrated some of the finest outgrowths of a very fertile imagination.

As with previous shows, Riddle usurped and effectively became proprietor of the gallery’s discrete volumes as primary surface areas. The placement of its aforementioned diagonally positioned ‘open box’ BLISS_CPD (Insomnia) was a radiant point of fulcrum that both divided, united and mirrored the larger space as a mauve interval that was also a zone of Robert Irwin-like perceptual subtlety and phenomenological grace.

As one left the gallery in the waning Montreal light, the work brought to mind the intimate and plaintive singing voice of Stevie Nicks: “Rock on, gold dust woman.” To which we might well hasten to add: Rock on, Jeanie Riddle, rock on.