Pushing Painting presents three concurrent exhibitions of new and recent work by painters living and working in New England. While differing in terms of subjects and techniques, the work of Elise Ansel, Nicole Duennebier and Duane Slick all demonstrate the vitality of contemporary painting in New England and the ever-present potential for the painted image to attract, engage and prompt reflection on how we view the world and our place within it.
Elise Ansel interprets historical paintings through the lens of contemporary practice. Using expressive, gestural brushwork, Ansel translates works by Old Masters, such as Caravaggio’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus, into dynamic, vibrant abstractions. In Emerald Light, the brushwork is almost palpable as it blurs the image of Melchior d'Hondecoeter’s Dead Bird beneath. While having the appearance of abstract paintings, her images maintain a fidelity to their sources through their colorful palettes which index the presence of the figures and scenes transcribed. In Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, a few deliberate and broad strokes of white make present the figures found in Édouard Manet’s composition. Often employing tools associated with photographic processes in conjunction with tropes in modern and contemporary painting, Ansel approaches her compositions as if she is creating photographic filters that shift our view of the historical paintings. Inscribing her gestural perspective overtop of those of the Old Masters both celebrates the original paintings and signals the possibility for points of view alternate to those traditionally associated with the dominant discourses around painting. Abstraction, for Ansel, allows her “to interrupt a one-sided narrative and transform it into a sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view.”
Elise Ansel was born and raised in New York City and currently lives in Portland, Maine. She received a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1984. While at Brown, she studied art at both Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. She worked briefly in the film industry before deciding to make painting her first order medium. She earned her MFA in Visual Art from Southern Methodist University in 1993. Elise has exhibited her work throughout the United States and in Europe. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences. She is represented by Danese/Corey in New York City, Ellsworth Gallery in Santa Fe, and Cadogan Contemporary in London.
Nicole Duennebier’s recent work explores the darkness and elaborate complexities of undersea life through the pictorial language of seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting. Ominous yet sensuous forms emerge from void-like backdrops celebrating the vibrancy and vitality within organic decay. In works such as the multi-part Hydnellum Myriora, her love of “candied, Old Master opulence” saturates her studies of coral, cysts, fungus and invasive flora and fauna. While her paintings appear to observe the intricate ecologies of organic growth, works such as Scintillating Organism invite us to share in her meditations on the beauty found in imperfection and natural decay. “Everything is always spewing, dripping, rotting a little.” While poetic in description, she does not approach painting as an allegorical exercise. Rather she seeks to examine and revel in the formal and the seductive qualities of organic life and mortality. “To me it is more the realization that both the rot and the fruit are a textural attraction in their delicacy; both take the same concentration and care to paint.”
Nicole Duennebier was born in Hartford, Connecticut. She received her Bachelor in Fine Arts at Maine College of Art with a major in painting. Her BFA thesis work was most influenced by research about the coastal ecosystems of Maine. In 2006, she was awarded the Monhegan Island Artists Residency. On the island she continued her work with sea life. Duennebier saw a natural connection between the darkness and intricacy of undersea regions and the aesthetic of sixteenth-century Dutch still-life painting. In 2008 she moved to the Boston area; she lives and works in Malden. Nicole Duennebier has worked alongside her sister Caitlin Duennebier on a number of collaborative exhibitions; most recently, their joint piece Temple of Flies was exhibited at Montserrat College of Art. Duennebier is a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Painting Fellow. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art.
Duane Slick’s recent works continue a career-long exploration of spirituality through the discourses of western modernist and post-modernist painting and Native American visual traditions. Often concerned with the contradictions and continuities between Native American identity and grand narratives of U.S. history, Slick is known equally for his abstract geometric paintings and the recurring image of the coyote as well as other animal and fauna imagery. The new works included in this exhibition integrate these themes into what he describes as “ruminations on the existence of metaphysical economies through visual schematics and the visual influences of pattern designs from the woodland nations of the northeast.” In There are no endings, geometic bands repeat, perhaps referencing the grid or the formal dominance of abstract western painting. Knitted between, beneath and above the bands, images of foxtail, coyote and hands appear in multiple, overlayed states, conveying a sense of animism and vitality, such as in Oration at Dawn. Many of Slick’s earlier works were characterized by a strong palette of primary colors, whereas new works such as Divided Garden demonstrate a shift towards darker and more muted greens, greys and blacks. These tones and the ghostly black-on-black images of the coyote mask could suggest a somber or haunting tone. For Slick, however, the darkness references something eternal and generative, the comforting continuity of the night sky from which day and life emerge and recede. New paintings of texts punctuate the series of images with meditative prompts underscoring his spiritual intention: “I am I have This is forever.”
Duane Slick was born in Waterloo, Iowa (Meskwaki / Ho-Chunk Nations) and currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He earned his BFA from the University of Northern Iowa and his MFA from the University of California, Davis. He taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe from 1992–1995 and is currently a Professor of painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. Slick has lectured at colleges and universities across the US and his work has been exhibited widely – most recently in a national touring exhibition titled “Native Art NOW!” organized by the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis and “Culture Shift: Contemporary Native Art Bienniel”, at Art Mur, Montreal. His work is included in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the RISD Museum, among many others. Slick is currently represented by the Albert Merola Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.