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Nearly all of the flat, predominantly female figures in Elegies, Becky Kolsrud’s recent painting exhibition at JTT, are missing something vital—feet, heads, faces, torsos. In Inscape (Three Graces) (2021), a trio of androgynous forms with few contours, save for general outlines, stand quietly atop flattened layers of sky, greenery, and blue-black checkered ground. The figures have no facial features, other than one disproportionately large, cycloptic eye each. Part of a graphic triad of generalized eyes, nostrils, and mouths that hover over the rest of the scene, the eyes are not quite theirs. The similarly generalized features of Inscape (Face/Figures) (2021) levitate atop three blue human forms emerging from water. Two of the bodies turn their heads to look back at the viewer as they move toward the luminescent horizon. Temporally, it’s hard to locate where they are or where they are from; all three appear both classical (in their formal simplicity) and alien (in their iridescent blue skin). This painting in particular calls to mind sci-fi book covers from the 1970s and ’80s in which worlds are lit by the soft afterglow of post-apocalyptic visions. Are they time travelers from an ancient past or do they hail from a near future? Are their physiological distortions due to some violent act or have they evolved into some unforeseen species?
The timestamp of these scenes is also wonderfully weird, portending an eerily silent future devoid of Homo sapiens as we know them, even though the imagery recalls the episodic structure and tableau-like prologues of Greek tragedy. Staged inside some non-human-centric otherworld, the entities here are classically statuesque. Sometimes their humorous solemnity calls to mind the paintings of the late Joan Brown in which the artist casually carries a giant fish or gazes out at us against a backdrop of Egyptian gods and hieroglyphs. There are hints of Brown’s quixotic, everyday surrealism, too, both in the flattening of forms and in the fusion of personages with other matter. Most notably, marooned inside this world are Kolsrud’s “Dryads”—half-human, half bushy cypress tree creatures—who punctuate the show like members of a Greek chorus. In the largest of the three Dryad paintings, titled The Chorus (2021), gray boulders rise up out of a vast seascape, emerging like mounds from waters rendered as thick blue semicircles. Perched atop each rounded mass, the tree-human hybrids loom in quiet observation. In the center of the painting, a supine person drifts inside a coffin-like boat, perhaps the last vestige of a truly human era.
Stuff gets stranded elsewhere, too. Inscape (Relic) (2021), depicts a disembodied foot wearing a kind of transparent high-heeled boot. The booted foot stands as the sole occupant in this work, holding still on solid ground in patches of green grass. A low horizon line underscores the vastness around the poor lost appendage. Nearby, the painting-installation Three Graces (2021) stages another form of isolation. The work brings together a large canvas depicting three mannequin-like forms and several dozen life-sized sculptures of feet that also don transparent heels. Made of Hydrocal, paint, and plastic, this smattering of feet highlights the segmented reality of the shipwrecked and stranded beings in Kolsrud’s universe. In previous bodies of work, Kolsrud walled characters behind chain-link fences; here, she casts them ashore inside an almost cosmic vastness, leaving them to discern reality anew in isolation.
Color is key to effecting Kolsrud’s destabilized, out-of-time atmosphere. Voluptuous blues shift between the color of a dark starless night, a benevolent sunny day, and the lighter-toned gradients of a big western sky. Lustrous day-glow pink ignites the sky in Inscape (Dryad) (2021), the painting featuring the largest tree-with-legs figure. In two paintings flanking this large Dryad, the same pink hue illuminates two skulls, making them appear either aglow with radiation or lit by the sun of this iridescent non-place. Elsewhere, pill-like cumulus clouds hover in Inscape (Clouds) (2021), floating around a blue rectangle, part-sea and part-sky. The pink returns to form a neat border around the blue. Looking at the odd flatness of the composition, with its bright border and inflated masses encircling a hovering landscape, is almost like peering at an old computer monitor’s screensaver. Suddenly, the same pink that might once have been associated with 1980s neon signage conjures non-human phosphorescent ecologies or the glow of a hue plucked from the digital realm—yet another detail that makes the scenes’ temporal states difficult to pin down.
Pastoral, hymn-like, melancholy, and forward-looking, Kolsrud’s new paintings manage to feel both ancient and urgent in their speculative imaginings. While viewing this exhibition, I felt the collective and personal solitude of this past year, but also the knowledge that as humans we will come to pass. I felt a little like I’d walked unknowingly into an arena of figures who had come to collect us, having come from a not-so-distant future, not to warn, but to assure us that our time was up. It’s time to go. Take only what you must. There’s a surprising calm about Kolsrud’s humanoids, as if they’ve found tranquility in this altered state and place. They’ve shrugged off the burden of history, holding onto only its shards—a few aged computer screens, a little bit of Athens—but have ultimately found an unexpected levity in their evolved lifeways. The featureless blue figures in Inscape (Face/Figures) have already transformed beyond our simple fleshy condition; they gaze back at us from some near-time, a post-human future, perhaps beckoning us to join them.
Anthony Hawley is a NYC-based multidisciplinary artist and writer. Recent solo exhibitions and films were presented by the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series and Residency Unlimited (Brooklyn). His writings on film and art appear regularly in The Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, Hyperallergic, and frieze. He is the author of two books of poetry and dear donald…, a forthcoming artist book.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 24.