As the goddess Demeter and her daughter reunite, color starts populating the landscape and before we know it, it’s March again. Spring is approaching especially slowly this year, as it gradually appears, it feels like we greet it with comprehensible caution, but growing positivity. It is impossible to forget the long winter behind us, but here we are, reemerging and prepared for what is next.
This is the sentiment present in Angela West’s Persephone, now on view at Jackson Fine Art which features large-scale hybrid paintings and photographs. Revisiting and reworking her archives, West has looked back in order to move forward; and continues to investigate photography’s potential outside of the photographic canon. Photography—especially in a traditional view—is a representation of the atmosphere between the ground glass and the subject. The compelling element in these pieces is the reimagination of this photographic commandment. The invisible space in between the blurred canvas and the swift brush marks becomes as important, creating a double illusion that captures the viewer into West’s enchanted territory.
The photographs function as the background, the primary exploration, that in this case happened almost twenty years ago. They act as the underpainting that West tops with layers of abstract painted gestures. In She Went, Ever Singing, West’s blue, yellow and green strokes activate over a blooming tree, a local annunciator of Spring. The photographic base is a striking piece on itself, tree branches cross each other from all directions with incredible dynamism, while pink blossoms stand firm as a sign of beauty in the middle of the chaos. Layered on top of the frenzy, we can feel West’s energy as her active marks abstract the scene. The blues and greens move across the bottom, creating a mirage-like experience, while the yellows mingle with the blossoms to solidify their stance as the positive beauty in the mayhem.
This chaos is accentuated in Sweet Summer Visitor!, a smaller piece in the exhibition that strengthens the communication amongst ink and paint. West demonstrates her proficiency as a painter and embraces the medium as the leading force. The piece acknowledges and defies reality—forcing us to contend with figuration and abstraction at the same time.
As I stood in front of these works, my brain struggled to categorize them: are they painterly photographs, or photographic paintings? Maybe neither. Mixed media tends to fall flat as a descriptive term, resulting in a vague assortment of ungroupable art. West encourages the viewer to let go of these rigid categories and spend time with her in this literal and metaphorical investigation of time, digesting the past with a welcoming feel for the future. The shocking clarity of the photographs should be enough for the viewer to ground themselves into a real scene, the present, but the painting application blurs the recognizable settings and invites to explore further than recognition. Areas that are hidden with paint become as important as the ones created by it.
Angela West’s Persephone is on view at Jackson Fine Art through May 15, 2021.