Natalie Reis

Natalie Reis
Galerie Trois Points
February 22–March 29, 2014

In Compendium, her third solo exhibition at Galerie Trois Points, Reis interleavens sumptuously painted canvasses with suggestive sculptural and installation components, generating an environmental volume that palpably sucks the viewer into a heart of darkness.

Reis is one of our finest painters, and the paintings here impress with their viscosity and dark illumination. The floral motifs in some of the paintings possess an emotional humidity without hubris. The use of breast milk as colour points to the experimental ethos of the artist’s practice and her deeply felt and rigorous feminism. These works are full of precipices and their shadowy fragmented figures, often reduced to body parts, speak of both peril and provocation. Personal histories that are fractured, Reis seems to say, mirror historical ruptures and the bankruptcy of the linear and the patrilineal.

In Ballistic Pendulum (all works, 2013), a large black sphere at the upper centre of the painting bears down, pendulum or Sword of Damocles-like (given its sense of foreboding, as though the artist-woman and mother was saying “walk a mile in my shoes” but now in a sense unknown to Cicero), on the outline of the female figure lying below like all the weight of the world. Within that outline is a venomous bouquet of flowers, which Reis says references the history of women in art. The flowers are paint and breast milk.

In Handle With Care, the cast black viscous field is branded with its namesake text in a tremulous, trembling, wraith-like, perhaps even menacing, fashion. Of course, it is text ubiquitous on shipping crates, which sometimes contain paintings, but here it reads as something far more personal, and unsettling. It has something spectral and angry and ironic about it, its uncertain lettering instantiated on the black backdrop like the tentative markings of a disembodied spirit.

In the cement sculpture Limber Weight, the blackened cast of a woman’s surreally elongated arm suggests both oar and dead weight, evoking both an instrument used for moving towards an invisible Other – and the morgue with its acreage of blackened flesh and dead limbs. This makes for a replete haunting, a la Edith Wharton (whose ghost stories have few equals) that is hard to shake off when one leaves the gallery. The ‘compendium’ offered here – in the sense of a concise yet comprehensive compilation of a body of knowledge – is also in the process of its own auto-deconstruction, a field of resonant fragments that nevertheless yield aura.

In her most personal and moving exhibition to date, this seasoned painter offers a compendium that is also interpretable as, and perhaps more importantly, a universal and hugely compelling encyclopedia of the damages that human beings to do other human beings who love them.