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Opening November 19, 2004, at DiRT Gallery, West Hollywood

by Diane Calder

Alison Foshee, "Peacock,"
2004, labels on paper, 60 x 45".

Alison Foshee, "Snowy Egret,"
2003, labels on paper, 44 x 32".

Alison Foshee, "Cloudscape Study 2,"
2004, labels on paper, 12 1/2 x 19".

Embedded within the definition of representational art is the expectation that the work produced by the artist will re-present the original, present it again by mimicking it as closely as possible or by establishing some link or point of reference that causes the viewer to more carefully assess the original and/or the artist’s interpretation. Early in modernist era, photography was assigned the role of freeing practitioners of the fine arts from the drudgery of faithful representation, allowing them to concentrate their efforts on the higher task of abstraction. Today artists who are aware of crossovers between photographic imagery, painting and sculpture are producing work that encompasses points of intersecting concerns. Alison Foshee and Samantha Fields are exploring that rich territory, questioning the indeterminate relationships between images and meaning through representational art.

In a 1999 review of Foshee’s work in Art in America, Michael Duncan observed that, “Unlike so many of the artists today who are making art works out of everyday objects, Alison Foshee deftly toys with the formal properties and psychosocial ramifications of her oddball materials.” At that time Foshee was systematizing staples into arrangements that read as astonishingly detailed, botanically accurate interpretations of leaves. The artist went on to fabricate brilliantly colored imagery simulating shells and flowers with banal dime store items such as pushpins and fake finger nails. Now the subtle delicacy of a limited pallet that Foshee employed so successfully in the leaf series has resurfaced. She is currently working with mailing labels in variations of the color white.

The variety of sizes and shapes of the labels, as well as the way Foshee positions them in order to construct the illusion of depth in cloudscapes and images of birds, distances her newest work from the obsessive repetition associated with Yoyoi Kusama. However, with her airmail stickers, Kusama did hint at the transporting power present in Foshee’s selection of birds, envisioned cross-culturally as messengers. Foshee’s inspired use of layers of white in alternating values reinforces form and builds texture and dimension in a way that a skilled photographer might side-light an Egyptian relief carving of Horus. Both stress detail, feathered patterns and rhythms, reinforcing the role of birds as soaring emissaries to and from the spirit world.

Foshee contends that, “The white label is a tool for naming and organizing; an empty canvas that can signify anything. Its usefulness is based on a balanced system of raw data and personal interpretation. As ideas become outdated, there is a new label or system to replace the old.” The element of transformation inherent in Foshee’s use of file labels for the creation of birds is also central to her work with cloudscapes. Clouds are in constant flux. We look up at them and picture images building and evaporating. They foretell changes in the weather and (metaphorically) in our lives.

Compared with the formal eloquence of her peacock, great horned owl, lyre, etc., there is a scattered, over the top” operatic energy and vibrancy in Foshee’s cloud constructions. Nimbus 10, the largest work in this exhibition, is not your grand-mother’s (i.e. Georgia O’Keeffe’s) Sky Above Clouds IV. But like O’Keeffe, Foshee understands how to enliven her representational cloudscape by building imagery from simplified shapes and forms.

Samantha Fields’ brilliance lies in her ability to make us believe what we wish were not true. Her painted surfaces are so seductive and compellingly realistic that we would reach out and stroke the animals she depicts if those little creatures were not sporting mysterious deformities. The titles of her works read like a cross between labels on display cases at a natural history museum and Anime. The jacaranda is home to this spiny backed fellow. The two tailed marmot hangs on for dear life. Bubbles the tree cat eyes visitors warily.

Fields confesses that, “As a child, I was obsessed with sci-fi creature features like THEM! and The Deadly Swarm. These types of movies have a common theme: man tampers too much and nature fights back. I grew up to a world where ideas once confined to science fiction have become possible. My work finds itself someplace between a sci-fi future and reality. . . .it looks forward with a knowing eye.”

Fields personifies her doe eyed creatures, humanizing them as she entraps them in countless layers of spray paint. Their mutated bodies glow under an incredible surface, loaded with color, polished like glass but delicately interlaced with opaque detail. Her creations, says Fields, aremade “palatable for public consumption. In the tradition of Huxley, my new world is beautiful on the surface, and disturbing underneath.” Right on both counts.

Samantha Fields, "The two tailed marmot
hangs on for dear life," 2004, acrylic
on canvas on panel, 24 x 24".

Samantha Fields, "Bubbles the tree cat
eyes visitors warily," 2004, acrylic
on canvas on panel, 24 x 24".