July 23 to August 27, 2011 – Garboushian Gallery
Ephemera is a series of large paintings by artist Yvette Gellis that appears abstract at first viewing but, upon closer examination, reveals discernible fragments of representation. Perhaps Gellis explains it best herself: “the work teeters back and forth between the ambiguity of abstraction and the restraints of representation.”
Gellis’ painting process begins as a gestural dialogue with particular homes and buildings near her 18th Street Arts Center studio, which she will often document in various states of destruction or decay. As Gellis liberally and deftly applies paint in a series of wide, muscular swaths offset by delicate calligraphic swipes, an impending sense of abstraction emerges. Vantage points are obscured, compositional liberty is taken, angles are askew, and ultimately, what began as a quasi-representational rendering is transformed into a phenomenological, psychological, or even a spiritual response.
Gellis’ work invokes elements of the schools that came before her—Light and Space artists James Turrell and Robert Irwin in their push to explore perceptual phenomena; AbEx’s unremitting return to the “mark”; and the Hudson River School’s romanticism—yet there is no single word or movement that can encompass the work. The artist likens her work to an event, a situational explication of the sublime, or as she prefers to quote philosopher Edmund Burke, “tranquility tinged with terror.” In recent projects—including her 2009 Violet Jolt sculptural installation at Stuyvesant and 9th outside of New York University—the event aspect is indeed clearly present in Gellis’ work, compelling the passerby to experience and engage the artist’s “mark” in three dimensions. Yet the paintings in Ephemera are a return, and more importantly, an expansion of something much more essential to the artist—paint.