Spalding Nix Fine Art has promoted its “Out of the Ordinary” exhibition, on view through September 10, in terms of the Gestalt psychology of perception and other things that relate to the act of seeing. But what makes the show sometimes delightful and occasionally unsettling involves a great deal more than that.
Consisting predominantly of sculpture, Corrina Sephora’s separately titled “Flotilla” is an extension of the symbols she has developed so productively in metalwork and other media over the past 10 or 15 years, emblems of journeys and many-leveled transformation. One ladder leads to a boat in midair from which small oars spill toward the floor. Another ladder terminates in a flourishing tree. A combination of a wall-hung panel with bas-relief sculpture features small metal boats with oars that cluster at the edge of the panel and continue in an ascending group on the wall, like a flock of migrating birds. Small boats laden with crystals, familiar from the artist’s outdoor installation at Blue Heron Nature Preserve, complete a dazzlingly diverse display of the artist’s now-familiar symbolic language.
The overall effect suggests transmutation and spiritual travel as a vehicle for self-liberation, and Sephora’s skill with patina along with a variety of metals makes the overall effect an exhilarating respite from the methods by which the rest of the show sets out to undo expectations.
The only artist in the show who isn’t Atlanta based, Hudson Valley artist Jordan Baker, contributes tightly formal still lifes in which, one way or another, something seems out of sync with what convention dictates for contemporary forms of this conservative genre.
In the main series of work, varieties of fruit are arranged meticulously on crumpled, striped bedsheets. The simple unlikelihood of encountering, say, a combination of sliced and whole blood oranges in such a setting is rendered even more disturbing by the fact that most of the fruit is bruised.
It is as though the real world of the supermarket had intruded on the idealized world of still-life painting, alongside the deformed retention of idealism expressed by the meticulously rendered untidy backdrops for occasionally classical compositions of objects. Other works’ portrayals of messy multiplicities of fruit, seen against a more traditional black velvet drape, only intensifies the sense of disconnect.
Baker systematically deploys an extraordinary command of technique in exploring her subversive subject matter, and her work of creative destruction is capped off with the inclusion of a single work of sculpture: a splendidly textured bronze roasted chicken, titled “I Roasted You a Chicken.”
Baker’s subversion is more sociological than surrealist, so it’s interesting to find her work juxtaposed with a salon-style hanging of new paintings by longtime surrealist painter Guy Robinson.
Robinson’s decades-long career has established his identity as a singularly genial surrealist. His compositions prod at the edges of (un)conscious awareness without unsettling more than the supposition that you can’t put an adorable cat and a classical reference in the same painting without creating cognitive dissonance. Unlike so many surrealist works, Robinson’s paintings make most viewers feel happier after studying them. As the poem inscribed on one painting puts it, even when “driven by waves of love and fear” on “a bottomless sea,” it is “a sea of dreams” that holds marvels as well as dread, and here the marvels predominate.
These new paintings provide overcrowded arrangements of incongruous objects and living creatures that look like contemporary versions of the Wunderkammer (or “cabinet of wonders”) that Renaissance monarchs once assembled. Robinson, however, makes everyday fruits and vegetables and the occasional hard-boiled egg seem as magical as the improbably convoluted shapes of the shells of ocean dwellers or the delicate patterns of antique lace. At their best, Robinson’s works do suggest the existence of alternate universes into which the viewer could enter with only a few extra alterations of attention.
A similar proposition about further dimensions of consciousness is suggested by Jim Wise’s paintings of single oversized conch shells or roses suspended against backgrounds of flowing, luminescent clouds or not-quite-monochromatic backgrounds composed of slightly differing shades of black. Bearing such titles as “Acolyte” or “Pilgrimage,” they evoke the abstracted form of religious experience that came into contemporary painting by way of the 19th century Northern Romantic tradition, as Robert Rosenblum called it in an influential book.
The beauty of this exhibition, of course, is its widely varying approaches to beauty; as viewer, you are free to ignore all the paths of exploration I’ve outlined and simply luxuriate in a variety of forms of lusciously rendered representation or lyrically symbolic sculpture.
Sephora is doing a live poetry reading on Instagram on September 9 at 11 a.m. @spaldingnixfineart and she will be in gallery on closing day, September 10, 3-5 p.m. Masks required.