Dallas, Georgia, native (and recent Los Angeles transplant) Ally White’s vibrant first Atlanta solo show, on view at Eyedrum through October 8, radiates a kind of dynamic, sensual stillness. The acrylic, collaged, and needle-felted works in “No Worries” play it cool but buzz with intensity.
The settings are lush and tropical, even when domestic. White paints feelingly, with devilishly delightful details. Color here is an explosion of sensation, with variegated layers everywhere you look, modeling a kind of energetic rest that is not numb, not asleep, but alternately daydreaming, dreading, yearning. Though the backdrops are ardently rendered, the works’ complexity and weight arises from the juxtaposition of the detailed backgrounds with the uncertainty of the subjects’ gazes, which seem weighed down by heavy thought even amidst the whimsical, light environments.
Blue Butterflies depicts a kaleidoscope of butterflies alighting in a green bedroom, near a window or landscape painting, beside a partially pictured feminine figure who is collapsed in exhaustion or boredom across an orange bed. A black and white dog entreats the viewer (but for what?) from the rug.
All’s Good features a partially nude female figure sliding off a couch, giving a thumbs up on the way down. Pain and pleasure intermingle fluidly in her eyes; the figure’s body echoes in the pose of a pet dog lying in the next room, possibly the same from Blue Butterflies. White’s figures are comic and playful, but to cast them as solely comedic would be an injustice to their subtlety.
The Western idea of “comedy” itself is often necessarily tragicomic if you are a self-identifying woman, queer, person of color, or socially aware in any way—and that’s if you’re lucky. White’s works in “No Worries” are rooted in this mixed rhythm of intensities: the setting of a pattern, building of tension, and a twist. Fittingly, the comedic formula of two standards and a variation is also the structure of the blues lyric. To quote Billie Holiday: “I love my man, tell the world I do / I love my man, tell the world I do / but when he mistreats me, makes me feel so blue.”
White’s subjects speak of unseen loneliness, heartache, and memory, but their blues are prismatic, erupting into a spectrum of color steeped in eroticism and desperate self-care. Despite their settings of indulgent homey comfort, the figures are contemplative and—outside of the company of the occasional animal friend—alone.
Though electric, White’s use of lighting and color is also vaguely ominous, the neon hues hinting at something unnatural and restrictive in the reimagined suburban environment. White’s Thinker seems to hover above what may be stairs or tile, striking an impossible pose, her back to a large, glowing aquarium, hands to her face, and face full of worry. And there’s the joke of the show’s title itself: despite the denial it suggests,“No Worries” addresses just that, the seemingly inescapable worries that saturate moments of stillness. Nonetheless, these worries have to be escaped, at least momentarily, in order to breathe.
Her paintings may play with luxe backgrounds, but White’s felted pieces leap through space to create a kind of multidimensional interplay within the gallery. Starting a spin of the comedic formula across three pieces, the first felted piece, Daydreamer, is a slumping female figure, sliding down the wall and onto the floor, her arms folded behind her head. The second figure, Backbend, stretches into an arch, serenely gazing out while luxuriously lifting. The third, Flying off the Bull, comprises two figures: a slightly annoyed bull and a blissed-out female figure effortlessly flying or floating away above him. Each piece in the needle-felted trio is absolutely stunning, the bold yet delicate layering of the felt pieces showing the same striking style as White’s brushstrokes.
The works in “No Worries” achieve complex emotion in a muted but exuberantly feminine world, a richness without frills. Through these languishing figures, pulled down by the weight of their exotically re-imagined suburban world, White’s works achieve an escapism not limited to phallocentric romanticism, a sense of comedy not married to pure optimism, and a complexity that doesn’t destroy the mysteries of ardor through spectacle. A winking wonder of a show, “No Worries” delivers a multifaceted take on the emotional weight-lifting that takes place even in moments of repose.
“No Worries” is on view at Eyedrum through October 8.
Catherine Rush is a writer, performer, and organizer currently living in Atlanta.