December, 2008, Eileen Quinlan @ Sutton Lane Gallery
Eileen Quinlan : « Fahrenheit and Stone Rose »
Sutton Lane Gallery
November 15-December 6, 2008
New York based artist Eileen Quinlan presents a selection of new photographs at Sutton Lane Gallery in Paris. This is her first solo exhibition in Paris. Each of the nine images on view but one, form part of Quinlan’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ series, a unique, systematic process that incorporates very simple objects- but produces anything but simple results.
Quinlan started developing the “Smoke and Mirrors” series in 2004. Whereas many photographers use their medium to reveal truths, emotions, or realities of life, Quinlan glories in bringing back the old tricks of the studio trade, breathing a new contemporary context into a once secret world. On a table or floor of her darkened studio, she arranges various scenarios that involve mirrors, draped fabrics, perhaps Mylar, or another type of reflective surface, and lighting. She then infuses this setup with smoke and begins photographing the scene as the smoke swirls around in its reflected haze. Although she controls each element of the still life arrangement through specifically chosen backdrops, colors, and lighting, the smoke is a loose variable and therefore the actual photo shoot must contend with, and indeed thrives on, the unexpected. As such, a real sense of freedom emerges out of this regulated methodology. Whether in black and white or in color, the images delve into the deepest realms of abstraction, exploring form, depth, color, texture.
Upon entering the Sutton Lane exhibition, a suite of six red-hued images titled “Fahrenheit,” all from 2008, grab the viewer’s immediate attention. I happened to have just seen the Mark Rothko show at Tate Modern earlier in the week, so I couldn’t help but make a quick comparison, and frankly, I found these images as engaging as some by the late-great Ab-Ex artist. I realize that is comparing apples and oranges, but it was for me, an instinctual comparison. The images in the “Fahrenheit“ series are seductive. The rich, saturated reds and purples are pierced by small openings and crevasses. They are, dare I say it…beautiful. I don’t think beauty is necessarily what Quinlan is after but it is there, undeniably, in this body of work.
The term smoke and mirrors might signify deceptive measures in the English vernacular, indeed in the early days of photography it was a direct reference to concealing the reality, but here Quinlan gives us nothing but the real truth, despite the often mystifying results. She does not retouch the images post production but rather embraces the possibilities within the basic mechanics of photography: angles, lighting, screens; images may be enlarged or reduced to create distortion, or a negative purposely scratched before developing, but there is no digital manipulations. These techniques are at the heart of the work of Quinlan. The resulting photographs are engaging but her real interest seems to be all about the process.
Quinlan has recently begun experimenting with a larger format image and two photographs in the exhibition, “Night Flight #33,” and “Santa Fe #19,” represent this new development. These two images have a more ethereal quality then the “Fahrenheit” series. Dark gray and black forms seem looser, softer, more shadowy, but they are then cut against a sharp edge or ray of light. The layered photographs are hard to place at first glance. Visual perception is impaired and one could almost be forgiven for initially thinking some of these images were actually paintings or drawings or photographs of paintings or drawings. It is difficult to place Quinlan’s work. Is she working in a conceptual mode or is it more sensory? She seems to move fluidly between these two worlds and this is again, part of the allure of her images. We are drawn in by the visual complexity of the image and the surface, only to realize the set of rules imposed upon their making.
“Stone Rose #10,” is the one representational image in the show. It is a black and white image of a funeral-like bouquet that rests on a marble top. It seems to be in total juxtaposition to the other images. You are kind of startled out of reverie from looking at fields of abstraction and into a cold, distant image that seems to have no immediate reference to what you have just been looking at. It is a sober image, a type of nature-morte scenario that in fact Quinlan says she takes inspiration from for her own work.
As mentioned earlier, Quinlan has been working on this series since 2004, but rather then grow tired, the work keeps changing, with surprising results. There seems to be endless possibilities within this process, and perhaps this is the real smoke and mirrors behind her work.
Eileen Quinlan lives and works in New York. She graduated with an MFA in 2005 from Columbia University. She is currently having an exhibition at Daniel Buchholtz Gallery in Cologne through December 20, 2008.
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