Shadows rendered in braided lilies and unraveling webs. Suffocated surfaces with barren cracks and crevices. Slits, stitches and rope barriers that remain highly composed, or should I say unfailingly poised. One enters the gallery only to become cocooned in tragic beauty.
The title of this exhibition, Ashes to Honey, suggests Melissa Herrington investigates the theme of maturation in her new body of work. However, I would argue that Herrington is examining the work of the body, specifically the female form, metaphorically and literally. Through the vehicles of Western myth and literary works from nineteenth century female writers, Herrington explores Woman in relationship to confinement and the production of beauty within it. Herrington used oil and acrylics on wood to create 12 paintings to form the center piece of this exhibition. These works stem from a studio time on a residential fellowship in Marnay, France awarded through CAMAC and Foundation Ténout. Herrington utilized this time during her fellowship to explore and experiment, this was a time of personal transformation, painting all of these works upon her return.
I would consider Herrington to be a lyrical painter, in that she has built an intimate visual language throughout her career as an artist. Even the titles of the paintings, which are grouped together in clusters, take on poet Tristan Tzara’s cut up method for creating Dadaist poetry. The paintings and the titles are fragments without one another, only to form a complete thought when united. A painted relationship between fragmentation and the whole. This could be a claim or position Herrington has for building a female community.
This community speaks a different visual language. One which is informed by the metaphorical, metaphysical, and mythological ways of thinking. Yes, I could compare the titles of these paintings to the nonsensical absurdity of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, especially since there is a reference to Carroll’s motif of the portal, or looking glass, but I do not believe that she is speaking from a (seemingly) juvenile point of view. Rather, I would say that she is reflecting from a more mature and critical standpoint, commenting on issues such as the fiction of femininity and the power that it still may or may not hold.
swarm of promises, the left instep is where she keep the names in a fiery necked nightjar 60x60x2 acrylic, oil mixed media on wood 2012
ARTIST STATEMENT: “The lone graphite figure occupying the left of this piece suggests containment as a form of simplification, perhaps withdrawal to a safe and calm inner space. This feeling is emphasized by the swarm of black form that invades the right of the composition. At the same time, other pale and muted forms permeate the dark, like oil and like ink; unbearably entangled but unable to fuse completely.” 2012
The image of the portal is also offered to the female figures within the work as an escape and or transformation. Fragments of the body become signs for a giving up of the self and of what must be left behind. ASH, ASHES, HONEY, ENCRUSTATION, SURFACED MARRED, these works are reductive. Clearly contoured shapes remain distant. The place beyond becomes then the destination of the image. There is a spacing here, an interval which points onto the referent and the horizon that exceeds it. We are offered glimpses through the veils of night and gray blackness of dawn, Herrington exposes. Spilling muted tones, with honey-comb like forms and scratched marks that are sometimes methodical in their irregularity, sometimes appearing as though left unintentionally by some natural cause or progression. Honey spills; images emerge from lavender sediment, almost as figures.
the like-a-cormorant-lifting-sense. HAVING AGAIN OF BEAUTY, I TRANSMUTED TO A HUE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN AUGUST AND LOCUST 60x60x2 acrylic, oil mixed media on wood 2012
ARTIST STATEMENT: “The swooping ink form rises from the muted depths to the honey-light, where it basks in newborn warmth. Aware of its journey wholly, but now vaguely; it’s not relevant to the present moment. BLACK CORMORANT. Markings in dry clay disappear, only when clay is soft again. Scars upon birdlike bundled body absolve. I TRANSMUTED TO A HUE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN AUGUST AND LOCUST.” 2012
These elements form a sense of a landscape; a map chronicling a journey both internal and external, a visual mirage that Herrington creates. However, the thick “amber-like” resin on top of the surface is the great reminder that the image is fleeting, and becomes a reflective façade for the viewers to place themself within this world. The glassy veneer also suppresses the layers underneath. This containment is a common thread literally and symbolically in the work. If biology is destiny as philosopher Simone de Beauvoir suggests in the first chapter of The Second Sex, then woman is trapped by her nature, contained by her own container of life.
Herrington has made a slight shift within this new body of work. Not all of the female figures are in silhouette. Most are in fact drawn in contour line. This technique in drawing is reserved for observational exercise. It is the eye translating what it sees and asking the hand to record the information. The line is careful, yet seems to have a topographical quality. It is as if Herrington is mapping out the physical qualities as well as the psychological workings of Woman. The line itself is a double-edged sword, as it not only creates the form but then becomes the border or barrier in which it is contained. The rope like markings remind us that it is an object that either pulls us to safety or causes our demise at the gallows. The female figure is hollow, waiting to take in the world or surface around it.
Michelle Wiener, Writer and Artist; lives and works in Los Angeles, California
RISES UP AGAINST A RAVELING. Once your arms make a roof above your thoughts.After the bellrope brushes your face 60x60x2 acrylic, oil mixed media on wood 2012
ARTIST STATEMENT: “Black drifts up, floating with force, tiny slowly coiling ropes moving against its tide. The brushings bring you back to moments, gently letting the right thoughts under your roof.” 2012
WHISPERING in her MOUTH. in twisted braids of lilies knitting. She has a stem from the place of the ash
60x60x2 acrylic, oil mixed media on wood 2012
ARTIST STATEMENT: "Spilling muted tones, with honey-comb like forms and scratched marks that are sometimes methodical in their irregularity, sometimes appearing as though left unintentionally by some natural cause of progression. These elements create a sense of a landscape; a map chronicling a journey both internal and external. Silent intensity far in the distance. Safe from it, you are where the elderberry honey is made." 2012
spills settle lured into stars. by the silent spiralings extend to shore.
60x60x2 acrylic, oil mixed media on wood 2012
ARTIST STATEMENT: "Honey spills emerge from lavender sediment, almost as figures, heads turn. The firefly movement of their sight paths spiral to and among the stars, which are the distant shore; a silent movement." “MATCHES IN THE DISTANCE, Little Wet Troops. Little bee eater. LIKE Hopscotch and gazelles.” "purple, pale yellow: Protected but only just, matches strike again and again and the bees are overhead. ight yellow: Strands gently binding, guiding, the honey lures to sunlight. Pause, the ashes solidify. A moment of grounding, gazelle after the escape. Inside tiny waterfalls feather thoughts float-hopscotch into the Existence, captured by honey." 2012