at Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles (through 26 October)
Reviewed by Eve Wood
No doubt Brooklyn based artist Naudline Pierre keeps the sacraments, though not necessarily the ones decried by the Almighty Himself, living instead, I would imagine, according to a more personal but none less rigorous code of ethics informed more by beauty and love than by traditions and dogma. Her first exhibition at Shulamit Nazarian, aptly titled For I Am with You Until the End of Time, which is from the King James Bible Matthew 28:20 which cautions the reader to observe all of God’s teachings no matter the evident cost. This statement could also be considered comforting, or a means by which us mere mortals might soothe our aching souls, knowing that we are connected somehow to the divine. One thing is clear for sure – Pierre believes in the healing powers of love – most importantly our own innate ability to transform dark and disturbing experiences into something more joyous.
Informed by her own religious upbringing, Pierre reimagines what appears to be more traditionally based iconography derived from centuries of religious teachings and images, weaving these themes into her own uniquely engaging narratives. The result is an amalgam of images recasting familiar Biblical stories with what she terms her “alter ego,” an androgynous figure whose own personal agency becomes its own force of power, allowing that the mythology of this character “reflects the artist’s own moments of personal growth, vulnerability and strength.” The paintings, one of which is painted as a triptych, itself a traditional iconographic form, tell stories of rebirth and regeneration, celebration and temptation, ecstasy and despair. The color palette also reflects these concerns, particularly in one seminal image entitled Lest You Fall, where the central figure appears to be falling backwards, yet is cradled lovingly in the arms of angels. The rich greens and reds suggest an ornate tapestry of wings and heavenly bodies, yet the central figure appears weightless in much the same way El Greco painted the lithe and elongated bodies of saints as floating or otherworldly beings. The painting has a fluid downward motion that is also circular and pulls the eye thru and around the entirety of the painting.
Familiar tropes of the Last Supper and the Nativity scene are retold here as exultant and phantasmagorical experiences where the figures appear to rejoice in the sheer fact of being alive, embracing ecstatically or gazing into each other eyes as though to find deliverance there. In the four panel There, There (It Was Foretold), the main figure is surrounded on all sides by celestial beings, all of whom possess long flowing wings that they either drape over the subject or extend in her direction as a gesture of protection or self-awareness. The image is based on the Nativity scene, though Pierre has recast Christ as a luminous purple being with a voluptuous figure and short hair, who stares out at the viewer with equal parts wonder and restraint. The image is a celebration of both Mother Earth and the divine presence of God.
Pierre seems to have more of an affinity for Hindu and Buddhist iconography than purely Christian as her paintings are suffused with a sense of whimsy and hopefulness rather than the standard brutally dogmatic images that mark the Catholic faith. Also, her choice of bright colors and rapturous emotional content align the work with more positive ideas of selfhood. But there is also the suggestion of community within these images, as figures work together in perfect harmony to facilitate a calm and peaceful environment for all. Perhaps these images function as dreams where the artist might experience the beauty of the world and the full support of those in it. Surely this is a dream we would all like to share in and one that seems all too far off at the moment.
These images also posit a sense of infinite possibility where the darkness and the light are in perfect accordance, and one is reminded at times of the haunting and fantastical visual vernacular of artists like William Blake. Songs of Innocence and Experience, perhaps Blake’s most seminal work, represents a balance between the forces of nature and the more predictable and staid world of men. As with Blake, Pierre prefers ecstasy over misery, the light from the heavens to the ominous pit below where otherworldly beings converge on the human realm as fire engulfs ice, yet there is a strange peace to be found in all this ecstatic burning.
Finally, Pierre’s paintings offer us moments of quietude, of personal reflection and redemption, allowing that we might frolic in full view of our own demons – Hell, perhaps, like Pierre, we might even learn to draw them close, suckling them until they transform into luminous beasts!
Featured Image: detail of Hold On, Hold Tight
Images courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles
Eve Wood is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Wood’s poetry and art criticism have appeared in many magazines and journals including Artillery, Whitehot, Art & Cake, The New Republic, The Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Flash Art, Angelino Magazine, New York Arts, The Atlantic Monthly, Artnet.com, Artillery, Tema Celeste, Art Papers, ArtUS, Art Review, and LatinArt.com. She is the author of five books of poetry. Also an artist, her work has been exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter and Western Project and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York.