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Review: Two artists evoke celestial, inner realms at Swan Coach House Gallery

Most recently at Swan Coach House Gallery, Makeda Lewis has curated the mud at our feet, an alluring show worth checking out as it hearkens to the universe that resonates within and outside ourselves. Guest curator Lewis pairs Sarah Nathaniel and Komikka Patton, who work well together in this elegant space. The exhibit pushes viewers, with its movement between microcosmic and macrocosmic lenses, across a splendorous use of materials and a materiality so pared down it forces us to reconsider how we occupy spaces both physical and metaphysical.

Nathaniel and Patton have rendered the space anew. This body of works between the two artists, bathed under the soft wave of luminosity, creates a tranquil space of repose and reincarnation. (An artist talk is scheduled for September 18 at 3 p.m. in the gallery.) Calling out to poet Mary Oliver’s “Winter Hours,” Lewis curates a space to have us reconsider ourselves and remind us of our interconnectivity. Through imagery like celestial tomes of rebirth, the reduction of the show’s color palette to the polarizing simplicity of black and white, as well as the singular installation that both cuts through and weaves together the space, altogether reminding us the integrity of interconnectivity in both simple and complex contexts.

Patton’s “Cosmic Phantoms bending, holding, and deciphering starlight messages, in the galaxy of Nubecula Minor . . .”

Patton’s work breathes into us the formations of a multitude of universes, a spiritual respiration centered around African diasporic imagery and depictions of a cosmic equilibrium, which at a quick glance can blur into a conflation of the micro and macro. What at first looked like two celestial bodies colliding, worlds shattering, becomes a cell dividing. The works confront us as densely black concentrations, composed of various materials popping off the stark white walls of this austere and stately gallery.

With a painterly hand to them, Patton’s works are full of vigor despite their refined palette. The brushstrokes are heavy and unfettered. The titles of Patton’s work read like poems or mantras such as Creation and destruction happen simultaneously” and When life gives you tap water make Holy water.” These “mantras” are reflected in the imagery of the work as we are presented with figures caught in abstract realms who look at ease, assured in themselves despite floating through space without any sense of ground.

There is much movement and growth appearing from Patton’s work, as multiple textures and collaged materials are arranged in such a way that evoke a flourishing biome possessed by some divine cosmic power. The pieces and their figures, who almost take on a saint-like quality, urge us to restore ourselves, reminding us of the vastness outside ourselves as well as within.

If Patton’s figures can be interpreted as saints, Nathaniel’s “Space & direct” elicits an inverted church, carving itself through the gallery. It is like an echo made physical, a wave held still. As one looks through the installation, there is an entrancing quality to its shape of concentric parabolas. This installation that ripples without ever moving causes the gallery to feel as though it expands and contracts. So concise is its materiality of solely using polypropylene rope that it triggers a sense of particularity.

Nathaniel’s “Space & direct” frames Patton’s painterly black and white works.

Despite its simplicity, it’s profound in its impression upon us as we are forced to stand back on its assault against space. The way it holds those of us who venture between each row, weaving ourselves through, is awe-inspiring. The act of walking through it makes me hold my breath. It’s not as though it’s a tight squeeze between each row of rope, but it’s the sensation of being in line with this wrinkle in space that permeates a kind of vibration through the gallery. The way it divides the environment visually and physically realizes new literal and metaphorical connections between Patton’s work, the gallery space, as well as us viewers.“Space & direct seems to hollow out the gallery, forming a cavity, a rib cage of sorts, in which we ruminate the intangible.

If we can think of Nathaniel’s work acting as a structure, perhaps like a lung or a stomach, then Patton’s work functions almost like air or nutrients that we (perhaps you could liken us to cells) digest and process. Or are we the food, and the works digest us? The works we feed into speak to us, beyond their simplicity, of a realm of thinking that is humbling with its implications.

From various angles walking around the gallery, the arcs Nathaniel has created feel reminiscent of vaulted ceilings having caved in, leading us through the gallery with its rhythm. The use of scale, and the play between micro and macro materials and concepts allow us to interpret the works in a multitude of ways. They have us aloft with a feeling like being cleansed or like an adult holding a small child up to see so much more — a feeling that there is more than what the eye sees and how it behooves us to keep looking onward.