Situated at the entrance of the Circle Gallery in the College of Environmental Design building at the University of Georgia in Athens, the small verdant Painting on the Longest Day of the Year acts as a prologue to Corrine Colarusso’s exhibition of nature-based drawings and paintings. Titled “Stirred Fiction,” it is on view through February 26. This painting’s title suggests a leitmotif that remains constant throughout the exhibition: a drawn-out summer day with intermittent storms and sunshine, one so long and hot it’s hard to image there was ever cold or dark, winter or night.
Colarusso’s paintings—especially the larger ones—are sublime spectacles as grand as the Romantics imagined. Looming like clouds on a distant horizon are the influences of Gainsborough, Turner, and Friedrich. Dream On (elementary geography, mountain) features a vast, prismatic mountain that towers over the viewer; gravid and tenebrous skies fill the aptly titled Close Rain, and steams of yellow light in Night Casting, Daybreak suggest the inevitable, optimistic sunburst. In the tradition of Romantics past, Colarusso sketches suggest many hours spent outdoors. Two elegant wooden cases house a series of drawings that are visible through glass tops Viewers are free to move drawers around and peruse Colarusso’s many sketches—some seem to be careful recordings of rock, sky, and light, others seem far more surreal.
In many of Colarusso’s paintings, there is evidence of much pouring, scratching, and other manipulation of the surface. Her foregrounds are often filled with brambly forms that verge on formlessness. Skeins and washes of pigment look like reeds, thistles, and dandelions, but also, of course, very much like paint.
Colarusso’s intuitive but clearly practiced manipulation of paint calls to mind even more art historical predecessors. On one hand, they conjure the French Symbolists, such as Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau, with their opalescent, florid imagery. Alternately, Colarusso’s canvases seem more radically abstract, akin to Hans Hofmann in the forties and the passel of Abstract Expressionists that followed his lead.
Despite the ease of such art historical allusions, Colarusso’s paintings are distinctive and fresh. There is an ambiance of another world, both like and unlike our own.
Considering the school in which the paintings are currently housed—the School of Environmental Design, I remind you—there is potential irony. In Colarusso’s paintings, flora reigns wild and supreme in lush, summertime hyper-abundance. It’s tempting to eschew a strong conclusion about “Stirred Fictions,” yet I’m left wondering: are these visions of an alien planet or something else? Is this a vision of our past, some vanished paradise? Or are these scenes prophetic and cautionary, visions of a potential future in which not even a solitary crumbling ruin suggests human endeavor?
Rebecca Brantley lives in Athens, Georgia, and teaches for Piedmont College and the University System of Georgia. She is board president at ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art. She was a participant in the first cycle of BURNAWAY’s Emerging Art Writers Mentorship Program.