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November 16 - December 20, 2008 at Terrence Rogers Fine Art, Santa Monica

by Judith Christensen

“Everything Must Go," 2008,
oil on canvas, 28 x 28”.

“Free Works," 2008, oil
on canvas, 11 1/2 x 16”.

“Wings," 2008, oil on
canvas, 22 x 22”.

“Regent Theatre," 2007,
oil on canvas, 28 x 20”.

If real estate moguls and redevelopment agencies had a “to-toss-out” bag, in it would go the places Patricia Chidlaw chronicles. Viewing her paintings is like perusing a thrift store filled with Southern California sites no self-respecting developer would deem worth salvaging. For the most part, the buildings and businesses Chidlaw focuses on are like the television set in her painting, “Free Works.” The set dates from the time when a television was a piece of furniture, built into a wooden cabinet. Now cast aside, it sits, with a handwritten sign saying “Free” and “Works,” by the curb, waiting for a taker. Like the TV, Chidlaw’s locales are well-used, not historically or architecturally significant enough to merit saving, and yet, they still work.

Chidlaw’s views of Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and Santa Monica do not reflect the heavily-populated, freeway-dissected, fast-paced Southern California most of us identify with. Even her urban scenes, such as the night scene of “Santa Monica Pier” have a rural, small-town feel to them. In “Wings” the Chinese restaurant depicted may be packed inside. Likewise with the “Taqueria Hidalgo,” which may be bustling within, but we see only a solitary figure walking on the street. In “Palm Springs Showroom” and “Fireworks” the only activity is a single vehicle moving along the street that enters each painting from the left.

Emptiness has long been a characteristic of Chidlaw’s artwork. But in this set of paintings, there seems to be a shift in tone. In previous work, lawn chairs, dirty dishes on a restaurant table, and other details suggested human activity that exists beyond the frame of the canvas, evoking a sense of possibility. In the current work, Chidlaw’s subjects, coupled with the typical component of the current economic climate, impart a sense of demise and loss. In the painting that provides the exhibit’s title, “Everything Must Go,” a furniture store advertises its going-out-of-business sale. The tops of the tall, thin palm trees that reach into the pleasant blue sky offer sharp contrast to the forlorn and failing store and the empty street. This overall tenor gives an ambiguity to the emptiness in “Jimmy’s Last Call.” Since there are no customers, is it the last call of the day or is this another business that is about to close?

As in earlier work, Chidlaw’s colors, especially in the night scenes, convey uneasiness. In the two Santa Barbara bus station paintings, the glow of the pink neon “Greyhound” sign, the yellowish-orange exterior and the fluorescent green interior is harsh and uncanny. The outline of the bare tree in front of the station assumes a supernatural quality that contributes to the discomfort. Combined with the shift in tone in some of the other work, unease extends itself to become anxiety.

For the discarded television in “Free Works” as well as the eateries, furniture stores and other storefronts Chidlaw portrays, a question lingers: “Does anyone really want them?” Or, have these relics run their course only to be replaced forever with the gentrified neighborhoods, malls, high-rises and gated communities?