The joint series of paintings in Marika Thunder’s latest solo exhibition, Texas / Yeshiva–the first with Nina Johnson gallery–could not be more different. Texas has all the sparkling intensity of rich hues and luscious oozing colors that saturate canvases. Yeshiva is somber and gloomy, characterized by many shades of black, brown, and white. Presenting two bodies of work together, Thunder utilizes the main gallery placing seemingly disparate ideas regarding pop culture and modern society in conversation. A deeply personal show, Texas / Yeshiva reflects on Thunder’s lived experiences. As a child she moved often, spending time in Texas, California, and Pennsylvania. Each place and pivotal moment informs her work. While the paintings represent different periods in Thunder’s life, their creation occurred simultaneously. Exhibiting both series allows the artist to recall memories from various important stages in her adolescence. Here, she illustrates her story through a series of contrasting paintings swelling with cultural symbolism and social commentary. Her curiosity regarding the human psyche is unearthed by exploring ‘subjects of community, faith, and spirituality.’
At first glance, the bright celebratory yet eerie imagery in Texas, bears no connection to the solemn, muted, and desolate Yeshiva series, which is nearly devoid of human life. Thunder’s reflections evince the shared impact of people coexisting within communities unified under common goals whether through religious or social beliefs. In the gallery the works are presented as two distinctly different yet cohesive exhibitions, delineated by an exposed concrete beam that partitions the expansive space. Cotillion Kite, 2022, like many other works in the Texas series, employs vivid colors that conjure memories of childhood nostalgia, as a large kite upheld by the hand of an unseen figure dominates the canvas. In Yeshiva Classroom, 2022 we see an empty classroom; a blank green chalkboard; a short doorway to an exit; a fire alarm; electrical wires pouring out of a socket near the ground; a clock whose hands reveal that it’s just after 4:15 and evidently, class is no longer in session. In several paintings Thunder implements a method of building and destroying the canvas with thick impasto, industrial paint, granite, and wood putty. She layers paint and material only to sand it down and apply paint again, giving the work a visceral texture and human feel. Additionally, paintings from the series,’ Texas and Yeshiva, are framed alternatively, in a metallic silver and rich walnut brown. Through a layered narrative derived from memory, Thunder’s work explores duality and ‘the collective drive to seek purpose and fulfillment.’
Through her newest work and a recent life changing discovery, Thunder considers the ways in which spirituality and faith impact her life. Seven years ago, she discovered her great-grandmother was Jewish. She’d hidden her identity to avoid persecution while living in Hungary after WW II. Raised by her mother and father who were born into strict Christian and Catholic homes, the news of her grandmother’s heritage proved shocking. As a teenager, Thunder struggled with severe bouts of addiction and the pressures society puts on young girls to live up to unrealistic standards of beauty and behavioral norms. The startlingly long-hidden family secret revealed a side of Thunder’s history she never knew and in the years since her connection to spirituality and healing through faith has transformed her life. The rich symbolism in Thunder’s work is immediate and palpable. In Texas, bright piercing colors give way to moments of gathering gleaned from photographs taken at a street parade in Corpus Christi, Texas. In Half the stage (Cotillion) (2022), a group of people stand on a large stage enveloped by a massive American flag amid a red, green, and blue brightly dotted black background. All the faces, of which there are dozens, bear the same vacant expression. At first, they appear strange to the eye considering the celebratory nature of a cotillion but considering the artist’s experiences with the pressure to assimilate into a dominant culture of feminine respectability politics it becomes startlingly clear why each figure bears the same banal resemblance. Without a single figure present, Yeshiva Lockers, 2022, gives way to life, hinting at recollections of school days long gone. The large grey lockers with doors strewn open and bent out of shape, appear abandoned. Paint drips down the canvas and the small space surrounding the lockers appear to decay, bit by bit, before the viewer. In Texas / Yeshiva Thunder brings an amalgamation of memories together bridging gaps in our collective consciousness unearth notions of community and spirituality.
Marika Thunder: Texas / Yeshiva is on view at Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami thru February 18.
This piece was published in partnership with Oolite Arts as part of a project to increase critical arts coverage in Miami-Dade County.