Emily Furr’s exhibition Star Tap at the SCAD Museum of Art presents outer space funneled, sectioned, and laid across surreal paintings and works on paper. Using form, imagery, and paint handling masterfully, Furr’s work is as captivating as it is intimate.
Multiple small paintings—sometimes as small as my hand—dot the left-hand wall where the eponymous Star Tap (2019) hangs, featuring a faucet opened to release a flow of black space dotted with glistening stars. Hung at varied heights, they take on the appearance of a constellation, a fitting installation method as many of the paintings themselves contain celestial bodies. Their scale is contrasted starkly by Thirst Trap (2020), a painting measuring 96 inches on its longest side which feels monumental by comparison. Depicting a sort of pinball machine, with a planet in lieu of a pinball, the background of this painting is the same glittering black space shown in Star Tap (2019). If the continuity of pictorial elements places all the artworks in the same universe where each small composition feels like a different crop of the same scene, Thirst Trap reveals just how large this scene is.
Furr is a master of desolate, flat astral abstractions. However, I feel that this language does not have the teeth it once had among Furr’s predecessors like Lee Lozano and Forrest Bess, both cited in the exhibition text. Orifices, the yonic, and the phallic are traditional sexual symbols, yet I do not feel any sexual appeal when viewing the cosmic orificeemitting a white cloud in Smokestack Serenade, or the fleshy opening in Clap Trap. It is likely this apathy is a result of the inundation of sexually charged images readily available and consumed outside of art via traditional media, but perhaps my lack of response to these images suggests that sexuality and its signifiers need reevaluation altogether. In actuality, the aspect that piques me most are the painted edges of shapes. Using hard-edged forms brings me in close to admire the tension of colors rubbing against each other, the acute angles made where forms merge, and the traces of contact between brush and canvas. Perhaps sexuality is better communicated by the obsessive physicality of her formal painting technique rather than the images this technique depicts.
This is not to say the imagery is all disinteresting. In the bottom right corner of Thirst Trap, a tongue emerges from one of the pinball elements, a small white tab placed in its center. Understood as a reference to psychedelic drugs, it initially feels like a sly way for the artist to address the psychedelic connotations of their work. However, the longer I stand, its wit melts into allure. The tongue and tab are a mysterious pair, intriguing and tempting. This image holds more sway than others in the exhibition because of its lack of overtness. The tongue did not directly indicate sexuality, and this uncertainty made it seductive. I wonder what this exhibition would feel like if the singular image of tongue and tab were painted at varying scales and crops with the attentive handling of paint and form Furr is clearly so capable of. Doing so would create an exhibition that is sexually captivating both in its imagery and its physicality.
Star Trap is on view at SCAD MOA through May 9.