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Nature's Borrowed Voice

  • SPRING/BREAK ART SHOW 2019 866 United Nations Plaza New York, NY, 10017 United States (map)

Olympia is proud to present Nature's Borrowed Voice in the 2019 Fact and Fiction edition of SPRING/BREAK Art Show. Nature's Borrowed Voice includes recent work by Madeleine Bialke and Leeanne Maxey.

Interpreting a painting as a representation denies its veracity. A painting can stand in for a preconceived truth; likewise, it can visually expose a belief’s flaws. The works of Leeanne Maxey and Madeleine Bialke challenge ‘self-evident truths’ in history to convey alternative perspectives and to focus on the subterranean foundations of dogma.

Leeanne Maxey addresses American organized religion and fundamentalist Christian beliefs through a queer lens. Raised an evangelical Pentecostal in Arkansas, she returns to these beliefs with a critical stance. Bibles, felt board stories and other religious paraphernalia make an appearance alongside vernacular household fixtures such as granite countertops, sofas, and wooden tables. A Gideon Bible, covered with rocks, rests on a cut lawn; a praying figure kneels in front of a bush while a rifle hovers above her head, pointed at doves flying her direction; figures walk on a paved path in a forest rumored uncultivated. All suggest lives made in worlds of tidy structure, playing up the fiction of culture as the natural order. Maxey’s painting Madam and Eve alters the genesis myth, confronting the shame that Christianity is built on while maintaining respect and acknowledging personal pain caused from the story. What is Hell? playfully includes flashcards from Junior Bible Quiz; these cards ask metaphysical questions like the painting’s title and provide blunt answers masquerading as facts. Her work is painted directly with imagery purposefully accessible to people from all class backgrounds and sexual identities.

Like religious art, American landscape painting functions as propaganda. Bierstadt and others depicted land as ‘wild, pristine, virgin wilderness,’ removing the idea that the land was cultivated and nurtured by Native Americans and had been for centuries past. Much of what we inherently associate with American landscape painting—not to mention our own notions of wilderness and nature—is a myth. Madeleine Bialke’s work expands on this thesis by creating shallow, flat scenes of the great outdoors. She evokes the language of flat comics as a device to explore limitations in space and our chronicled depictions of nature. Lozenge-like pine trees sit under dense forest trunks, creating interior spaces with exterior symbols. The term ‘landscape’ has historically referred to an aesthetic or representational order that was at least one step removed from any actual place. Landscape is a convention of culture, and Roy Lichtenstein wrote, “Generally artists, when they draw, are not really seeing nature as it is. They are projecting on nature their familiarity with other people’s art.” Landscape painting walks the fine line from an art that imitates nature to an art that imitates art.

Both painters refer to the geometry of the picture plane and acknowledge its flatness, pulling viewers inside shallow spaces that should be deep, or pushing the image directly to the surface. The dialogue extends beyond aesthetics, as both restructure belief systems and consider their role as artists within these deeply ideological histories/spaces. Maxey’s work interrogates the quashing of sexual and intellectual freedoms in the name of religion, while maintaining the mysterious poeticism inherent in both painting and Christianity. Bialke’s work critiques American landscape painting as a national portrait yet does not forgo classic landscape tropes or beauty in color.

Earlier Event: February 28
Later Event: June 1