In “Consolation,” her debut show with Charles A. Hartman, Eva Speer (no relation to the author of this review) explored the dialectics between density and expansiveness—at times to poignant effect. The show’s most innovative works, the gold-leaf sculptural wall piece, Award, and the silver-leafed Tarnation, were meticulously carved and sanded wood panels that mimicked the puffed-out, wrinkled-up look of bed pillows. Glinting, gleaming tours de force, they presented a visual paradox: the apparent softness of quilting and padding versus the solidity of gold bars and silver bullion. The viewer, registering but unable to reconcile these dueling impressions, was left with a dissonance that might have proved disturbing, were it not for the broadly smiling opulence the pieces exuded.
Elsewhere in the show, oil paintings played out fantasias on the motif of explosion. In their nebular imagery, they recalled the theoretical instant when crushing density gave way to expansion: the Big Bang. In works such as Stratagem, Speer deftly portrayed the aftermath of cataclysm—dark, billowing smoke and wayward plumes that jetted off willy-nilly, like the booster rockets of the exploded Space Shuttle Challenger. Tempering these grim evocations, more celebratory imagery clustered in the painting’s center and lower quadrants: clear sky yielding to fireworks in luscious fuchsia and aqua. Another painting, It Follows, with its retina-searing pinprick stars, graded from inky midnight blue to rose and teal, wispy atmospherics giving way to the expanses of deep space.
Not all elements of the show were this assured. Lumpy, inelegant, and just plain ugly, the sculpture,Poof!, did not cohere with the rest of the work. And in the aforementioned silvery Tarnation, the small panels were not wholly flush, but separated by tiny cracks intermittently filled with conspicuously gummy adhesive. This is a formal problem the artist must solve if she continues this otherwise eye-pleasing and thought-provoking series. These exceptions aside, the show was polished and confident. Its title, “Consolation,” seemed apt given the works’ oppositional dynamic. The appearance of softness, even if false, Speer implied, channeling Zen, is adequate consolation for a wooden pillow’s lack of actual comfort.