Maletz forcibly breaks with convention and defies the observed rules of
watercolor painting, working in ways that seem contrary to what the medium is
capable of doing and exploring subject matter that can spark uncomfortable and
often contradictory feelings in the viewer.
|Hug by Allison Maletz, detail, watercolor painting.
solo show, up through March 24 at Christopher Henry Gallery, in New York City,
reveals how psychologically intense and humorous the seemingly mundane American
family can be. From brothers in matching sweaters forming a human totem pole to
a romantic embrace that is just this side of creepy, Maletz explores the
moments when familial bonds are pulled just a little too tight and situations
begin to feel a little off. In her paintings, warmth between mother and
daughter, sisters, or husband and wife turns cloying, and bright moments that initially
endear themselves to the viewer darken, metaphorically speaking, with more
study. "I make images that are beautiful, happy, and nostalgic and push them to
their possible breaking point, when their pleasantries overtake them and they
reach a level that is no longer enjoyable but somewhat uncomfortable," says
|Generation Four by Allison Maletz, detail,
In step with
the duality of her chosen subject matter, Maletz's treatment of watercolor is
also a combination of contradictions. On one hand she courts the out-of-control
aspects of the medium by working horizontally and allowing fluid color to pool
and spill where it may. In some cases she allows the watercolor to pool in
grotesque puddles or large swaths of color that dry inconsistently, as in Hug
, making the environment visually
foreboding and creating an almost claustrophobic feel. But in other cases the
results are lovely. Sun-dappled leaves and juicy fruit appear vibrant and effortlessly
drawn, as in Picking Oranges in Grandpa's
. Shadows on skin and highlights in a braid of hair look quite lifelike.
also craves control in her works, otherwise there would be no explaining how
she creates the subtly complex and highly patterned textiles that many of her
figures are clothed in. What started as an interest in color dialogues, in
which Maletz created patterns with primary colors alone, has evolved into a
deeper interest in symmetry, layering, and duplication. Maletz initially took
visual reference from Turkish and Art Deco patterns but has now moved on to
design the patterns in her head, though many are inspired by the lives,
hobbies, and pursuits of the people she paints.
people that I know (or got to know), and when I find myself struggling to
create a pattern, I think about who
the person is that I was painting the pattern on," says Maletz. "This idea
really took shape on the painting Hug.
My father is hugging his father. My
father, on the right, is an accountant. His pattern became about numbers
melding together into a sea of carefully constructed numerical geometry. For my
grandfather, who is an excellent card player, the pattern became about
diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs."
|Picking Oranges in Grandpa's
by Allison Maletz, watercolor painting.
||Braid by Allison Maletz,
To create these
intricate patterns on paper, Maletz starts by painting the fabric of a figure's
clothing, creating wrinkles and a sense of the cloth draping with bleeding
puddles of pigment. Once that dries, she draws the pattern over the folds of
the clothing, dipping in and out and following the contours of the figure and
how the fabric lays on his or her body. Then she paints the patterns in, always
taking into consideration the highlights and shadowed areas of the clothing, as
well as the ambient light in the scene.
patterns are a bit mind-boggling considering the fluidity of watercolor, but Maletz
makes it seem effortless. Yet another contradiction from an artist who
continues to brush off the rules of watercolor to work in her own way and
create unusual and relevant works that make me want to say, "She can't do
that!" Because, indeed, she can.