The Real & Imagined, Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis 

By May 30, 2024
Installation view of The Real & Imagined at Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis. Image by Houston Cofield and courtesy of Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis.

Sheet Cake Gallery celebrates new watercolor paintings from Kong Wee Pang and collage paintings from Erin Harmon in the exhibition The Real & Imagined. The work dwells in botanicals, addresses the grid, and explores new artistic means for both artists.

Erin Harmon’s candy-colored works draw my eye first. They are each small, isolated gardens, without human interaction or story. Character Study I (2024) depicts a yellow root casting a shadow on an orange lattice and blue painted ground. The painted paper collages are as ambitious as ever; there are no misplaced snips in the complicated matrices, and the artist touched every variety of flower delicately with her brushes, yet the works have become flatter. In the past, layers lifted away from each other and only attached at strategic points. Where actual depth (floating inches away from the wall), separate cutouts, and color once conveyed real space, now color alone telegraphs depth. Here Harmon glues all the registers tightly to one another, giving me less room in which to inhabit these worlds.

Erin Harmon, Character Study I – Banana Yellow Sticker Stem, 2024, gouache on paper, cut and collaged, 18.75 x 15.75 inches. Image by Chip Pankey and courtesy of the artist and Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis.

The Adjustable Paintings separate portions again. Harmon created wall shelves each bracketed in front with a candy-striped hedge and with a trellis in back. The shelves all have three parallel grooves where the wooden trees can sit and be rearranged. Eight of these paintings hang as the artist composed them. Adjustable Painting – Black and White (2024) is one of these paintings. A striped hedge contains a white bush with a lavender transparent wash, a ruby-colored stalk, and a slate green tree with fruit sprouting from the trunk. Dry black taps of Harmon’s brush indicate that light hits the back grid. In addition, fifteen or so more trees sit sporadically on a shelf in Sheet Cake’s lobby. A mirror in that display shows the painted reverse of each tree, but it also expands the shallow garden into a deeper fairy tale forest. These wall shelf paintings convey a twilight zone of sculpture that seeks no dawn. That Harmon offers sculpture with the trees on their own in the lobby, but it nags me that the curation and her shelf design are too tentative to pull the components away.

Kong Wee Pang explores plants too, but adds Malaysian birds and animals of the Chinese zodiac. Pang’s canvases provide a welcome, slow pace for the exhibition. The artist’s technique of floating imperishable puddles on dry canvases is striking. The pools only form delicate edges if enough pigment saturates the water, and too little water will dry a halo before the shape fills. She never hesitates. 

Installation view of The Real & Imagined at Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis. Image by Houston Cofield and courtesy of Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis.

Stone Rest (2024) comprises watery shapes that conform to the canvas self-consciously. Five shapes hover above a flowing, stormy plinth. On the left an undulating stroke makes an inverted bird with a blue eye spilling into vibrant pink. An aging banana shape (a cheeky subject matter Pang does not steer away from) bends against the top of the painting and shelters a charming peapod-hummingbird. The shape is repeated below a technicolor gourd and another bird profile sporting a complicated green shade made from black dropped into orange. Some marks fade gradually, but in others, pigment grabs the dry surface and remains staccato. Moving water comes up in many titles; the paintings flow through emotional states while I stand with them, and I sense a mournful undercurrent even in the real delight. 

The Real & Imagined concludes with Palimpsest (2024) by Harmon and Ecstasy (2024) by Pang. Palimpsest (2024) floods my vision with a yellow grid superimposed on green paper with bushes that shade a foreboding tunnel. Layered paper performs psychological depth thus staking out new territory. Ecstasy (2024), the only self portrait, includes a blue-haired figure leaning with her head on her hand and sprouting enough greenery from between her legs to distort her body. There is so much of Pang in the work already that a self portrait might be repetitive, but instead, the work blurs literal representation with Western abstraction and descriptive motifs from Southeast Asia. This canvas loses enough of the artist’s control to justify a new experiment.

Kong Wee Pang, Ecstasy, 2024, watercolor on unprimed canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Sheet Cake Gallery, Memphis.

Kong Wee Pang and Erin Harmon’s exhibition The Real & Imagined is on view at Sheet Cake Gallery in Memphis through June 22, 2024.

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