PORTLAND / EUGENE
Eugenia Pardue at B Rogers Gallery and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Known in the Northwest and the Bay Area for her brashly colorful semi-abstract paintings, Eugenia Pardue debuts a surprisingly monochromatic body of work in two overlapping shows: a solo show at the B Rogers Gallery in Portland and the lively survey “New Art Northwest” at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, at University of Oregon, Eugene. While much subtler in palette than her erstwhile bubblegum-hued extravaganzas, the new works retain the freewheeling sculptural quality of the previous work. Formally, the works in both shows consist of a flat white plane, with vernal motifs rising in relief, as much as four inches above the base. These motifs riff on rococo and Victorian illustrations, scrolls, flowers, grape clusters, weeds, and vines. At times the application of acrylic paint is gloppy (as in the museum’s Tree of Life), at times clean (as in the gallery’s Dawn). The works are at their most effective when the execution is immaculate and the composition dynamic, as in the gallery’s Bequeath and Twilight, the latter of which makes sophisticated use of negative space. The museum show highlights works with redolent natural references, like the jaunty flecks suggesting pollen in the resplendent Bouquet, or that exude the mien of danger, á la the carnivorous, Venus-flytrap-like spikes in Kashmir.
Pardue is a gifted visual thinker whose work both critiques and indulges in the arbitrary distinctions contemporary artists and critics draw not only between painting and sculpture but also between Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and the decorative. Texturally maximalist, chromatically minimalist, the artist’s new works aim to push the physical properties of acrylic paint to their limits via unlikely manipulations such as braiding, stabbing, cutting, razor-blading, hack sawing, squeezing, pinching, and nailing with equipment ranging from dental tools to cake decorating nozzles. It is ironic that Pardue, who seems to rebel against the mechanistic nature of our age, is at her most effective when her works forego the gloopy, gloppy mounds that so often populate them and instead showcase a facility for pristine lines and fresh, airy compositions, carried out with almost machine-like precision, as in the delightful four-panel Pachelbel at B Rogers. Pardue’s most inspired flights are paeons to the luxuriance of nature. Yet because art can never truly replicate nature’s chaos, it serves the artist best to merely suggest nature—a high order, best accomplished not through unchecked fecundity but through specificity and precision.