By Fiona Connolly
Lyles & King’s latest exhibition, Touch Knows You Before Language, presents a group show featuring artists Vivian Greven, Erica Mahinay, and Lauren Seiden. The title of the show originates from Adrienne Rich’s poem The Images from 1976-1978: “…My hand half-sleeping reaches, finds / some part of you, touch knows you before language”. This presentation not only exists as a visual feast but begs its audience to reach out to feel the canvas’ surface. Each of the chosen artists utilizes space and texture in a way that sparks visual curiosity, setting all other senses ablaze with the burning need to consume fully.
Ozu I, 2019
Linga II, 2019
Vivian Greven’s Linga II (2019) is crisply painted with sharp edged boundaries, yet subtle and romantic in its blending from color to color. Juxtaposed are complementary colors red and green as Greven uses their push and pull to manipulate the viewer’s understanding of negative and positive space. The colors are so arresting that it takes a moment to absorb what the subject of the painting could possibly be. One reading would suggest this to be a reimagining of a color field painting. However, when taking the ostensibly non-figurative shapes into the context of this show, one realizes that the subject of the painting could appear to be a slightly parted mouth with a tongue slithering out, harkening back to the show’s theme of sense. To gaze at Linga II is to also feel the need to touch and taste, to crave physical touch. Greven’s oil paintings continue to remove and replace the body with sensual color throughout the show, highlighting the feeling of contact on the body, while also removing any figurative descriptors. In tender color she shows how even in moments of intimacy, we can be cold and removed.
This Test, This Site, 2019
By contrast, Erica Mahinay explores the absence of touch, her paintings decorating a translucent fabric that allows the audience to gaze at the wooden skeleton behind it. She suggests emptiness, her paintings becoming ghosts of what once was. This is particularly emphasized by the finger holes that interrupt the painting surface and invite the audience to place their hands where the artist’s hands once were. This Test, This Site (2019) is an acrylic on silk that is violent and angry, from its bloody red color to the erratic paint gestures to the stitching of the finger holes against the silk surface. Like an abandoned murder scene, the stained surface encourages the eyes to investigate the site, but one is left with more questions than answers. Nude [In Free Fall] (2019) takes a figure plummeting in space and abstracts the visual language that the audience would come to expect. The muted color palette does not shock like the colors of This Test, This Site does. Instead, Mahinay overwhelms with size – the canvas measures 100 by 132 inches, meriting a wall to itself in the gallery. The holes that litter the top of the piece do not suggest a peaceful descent. Mahinay’s paintings are configured specifically to ensnare the senses, but try not to fall right in.
Hang Onto Your Ego (V), 2018
Lauren Seiden’s adds a dimension to Touch Knows You Before Language by reaching into the physical space of the gallery. Her mixed media sculptures draw from the female experience: the marbles of her structures mimic both a framed mirror that is constantly gazed at by women, as well as inversely invoking the secondary interpretation of “frame” being the female frame, subject to society’s gaze. The cracks in the marble represent physical marks on the skin from blemishes to stretch marks that all women incur throughout their lives. They could also be the mental cracks and scars we acquire as we walk through life, the pain of everyone’s eyes and attention tearing at the human soul, little by little. Marble is both elegant and cold as a material, and as much as the audience would like to gaze into the frame, there is in fact nothing there. We are not privy to the personal feelings the piece could reflect if a figure stared back. Instead all the viewer has are small additions that interrupt the severity of the sculptures. In Mirroring the Unseen (2019) a graphite covered tank top hangs from the marble frame’s corner, a common bedroom scene that brings a small sense of humanity to the decor that seems trapped in stone. By taking every day scenery and republishing it in uncommon materials, Seiden creates an eerie reality that feels familiar yet out of place.
Touch Knows You Before Language will be on view at Lyles & King through July 12.