“Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practiced to deceive.”
Everybody thinks it’s Shakespeare, but in fact, it’s Sir Walter Scott’s “Marmion.” Scott was apparently such a baller poet, anecdote masquerading as fact discovered via Wikipedia, that “Marmion” about the battle of Flodden, attracted investors in its production and indeed entirely sold out its first edition.
I should only hope the same is true for the paintings of my friend, Erin Oliver who’s show, “Double Capture” replete with interactive installations opened this week at The Carrack. It is her work that brings to mind said tangled webs. Her paintings and installations are abstract, but their mimicry of natural forms has led people to describe them as everything from webs and vines, to leaves and branches, birds and insects, along with speculations about the microscopic and cellular as well.
I have heard all these comparisons because I have been following Oliver’s work for lo these many years now. I first encountered her in the Mercury Studio-Carrack salons, only ten or twelve people came in those days, a hardcore cadre that including Laura Richie, Megan Jones, Sarah V. Goetz, Jim Lee, Chuck Pell, and a handful of others.
Oliver’s quiet intensity burbled from her work. Painting then often entirely in black and white, the negative spaces in her pieces seemed to have as much importance and value as the delineated and defined space. But there are those tangled webs again. Metaphorically and for real.
Negative space only exists as it is delineated and defined by positive space around it.1 I am rereading and imbibing Godel, Escher, Bach again, but even those familiar with one of the three, or Lewis Carroll, or simply possessing clear recollections of childhood, can innately sense that space and non-space are one in the same, just defined by the experience of the moment. (A circle starts at its beginning right? And this statement is false.)
Oliver’s work probes these regions and engages. I have been writing about memory and experience. Thinking about ideas such as how what we cannot recall is as true and as real as what we can recall. Our experience is defined by our memory, and all of the things that happened to us happened to us, yet our internal hard drive is programmed for selectivity.
We systematize, categorize, and clump. Oliver’s paintings might be close ups of the cerebral cortex, or cilla, or neurons firing, or photosynthesis within plants.
Once I brought her over to my friend, and my personal artistic co-conversationalist partner, Mark Coffman’s studio. He was still painting Durham in the snow then, along with some Basquiat knock-offs, and a little bit of Pop Art.
Oliver looked around and through Coffman’s stack upon stacks of paintings and asked, “What do you want me to see?”
At first it sounded plaintive, but the longer the question resonated in the silence the more profound it became.
What did I want her to see?
What did Coffman want her to see?
What does an artist want us to see?
A reflection of themselves and the world around us?
A reflection of ourselves and the world within us?
Something else? Something more?
Ponder these and other epistemological questions while luxuriating in the art of Erin Oliver.
“Double Capture” at The Carrack now through June 13th.
Be sure to crawl into the cave (my interp.) by the window after you wend your way through the Oliver’s weaving to enter the room.
Special dance performance by Killian Manning, “No Forwarding Address” on Friday, 6/6 at 7pm and Saturday, 6/7 at 8pm.
Improv Jazz, Tuesday, 6/9 at 8pm.
Artist Talk, Wednesday, 6/10 at 8pm.
Closing reception, Saturday, 6/13 at 7pm with the music of LA Fernández, an original folk and blues experience in a neo-flamenco style.
1Anti-matter has no meaning without matter.