Odele Zhang: LIVE Broadcast
Curated by Pablo Barrera
Parasol Projects @ Rivington will be hosting Odele Zhang’s solo exhibition titled, LIVE Broadcast.
LIVE Broadcast features Zhang’s sometimes playful, oftentimes somber, representation of fleeting encounters with her subjects. The paintings are produced live within a set time restriction, never to exceed a single day. At first glance, her paintings connote a seemingly figurative state, but Zhang’s subjects serve to render her momentary feelings while painting, rather than the subject itself. Classical traditions of painting train us to decipher the mimetic, but Zhang attempts to capture the tense moment when the artist is transcribing the shifting visuals of the physical object by making the object reflect her ephemeral reactions toward what she observes.
The pursuit of live painting emerged as a key practice for Zhang when she progressed from her earlier reliance on photography for her animals in collage-like paintings. Zhang's earlier work distorted the common representation of nature via landscape, choosing instead to evoke nature via animals that serve as the actants of an urban landscape. By placing them in unexpected, yet rational relationships to urban settings, nature became a heterotopic place, always in the mind's eye, yet not depicted in traditional format. Her previous works ejected standard shorthand for descriptive imagery, yet, was burdened with an overabundance of digital images from which to draw from. Photography become an easy way to gather thousands of images, and Zhang vainly attempted to process the plethora of material, frustrated by their incompleteness, and disillusioned by her inability to refer back to each fragment as her art was assembled.
In her newer work, Zhang, likewise, refuses to shy away from complex imagery, but is now prioritizing the opportunity painting offers toward achieving an ephemeral impression. Zhang’s new works rely on her personal observations and visual engagement with her topics, limited by tangible factors, such as time, lighting, and the intimacy fostered between her and what her subject decides to reveal while observed. Furthermore, while Zhang’s previous works relied on digital photography to produce and reproduce her imagery, in her new works, she discards photography’s filter on how an artist “sees,” instead, aiming for a live reading of her subject’s visual reality. The digital medium served her past works well, offering layered visuals and generating composites of animals and landscapes; however, in observing the shifting colors and textures of fur and hide, Zhang particularly grappled with how a “reality” of the layers of colors in a natural environment, or of a subject in nature, could hardly be captured by pixels. The same problem carried into rendering similarly varied, changing tones of human skin and clothes; photography facilitated the denial of these complex visual elements. Painting from real life allows Zhang to process the colors and textures that light reveals over time and through motion. Her attention is now drawn to the liveliness her subjects inherently possess.
In vying for this honest, constrained impression of her subject, Zhang deviates from the scientific and ocular preoccupations of impressionist painters, per se, as well as the emotional tone of abstract expressionists. Zhang is not trying to make a mark; she is leaving the traces she has managed to retrieve at the moment of painting, while fighting the commercial illustration style that informed the surfaces of modern painters. Past artists, like J. M. W. Turner, have already championed a “real-time” or plein air painting style, but while Turner’s works use light to masterfully execute a portrayal of the atmosphere and mood of nature, Zhang is interested in the nature of the relationship between herself and her subject, acknowledging how light governs how an artist sees, and using that moment to capture her selfish pursuit of engaging by painting. In this way, Zhang is learning how she feels as she paints, and painting what she learns.
In Zhang’s new body of work, a nude painting submits to this shifting light: the subtle, but present pink and purple skin tones are exaggerated, which clash with brushstrokes eager to depict motion. Still life depictions of lemons take on a psychological aura when juxtaposed with swimming goggles, evoking the uncanny light near beaches: yellows, greens, and blues accentuate that specific character such lighting summons. Zhang’s quickly executed paintings wrench these furtive qualities, as the painting toggles between abstraction and figuration, without respecting either. We are encouraged to glimpse Zhang's perspective, whether it is musings on fruit, insights on her friends, or bemusement toward a model’s futile erection. The figurative is not enough, as Zhang aims to equally prioritize undeniable primal instincts her subjects possess and share with her. Abstraction is insufficient; Zhang is just as preoccupied with the illusory elements the combination of physical presence, shifting light, and time produces. The viewer is then invited to shed trained modes of seeing, all while wrestling with the problematic need for self-presence during our voyeuristic perusal of the depictions she provides.
Zhang's quixotic effort toward a future-oriented type of painting does not look back at the previous self, refusing to return to the last painting, but, rather, enjoying how the use of a few lines can render her moving targets. The time is there to paint, but Zhang takes great effort to generate lively images via jarring, fun tactics, before tedium directs the image toward a sort of completion. Zhang’s moment of interaction is a selfish pursuit of that notion of liberated thought, action, and attitude towards painting. LIVE Broadcast is not about the fleeting subject, but about Zhang’s fleeting attention to the subject during the limited time of interaction, depicting an internalized sense of the moment that rendered the painting in that condition.
As a short-term pop-up space, Parasol Projects @ Rivington mirrors the type of constraints that Zhang’s recent works desire to capitalize on. The compressed time limit of the show drives Zhang to discard any unnecessary projections or attempts at quotation. The limited showing compliments Zhang’s momentary engagement with the subjects she is able to paint leading up to the exhibition. As a result, the viewer is offered an equally compressed, live engagement with the works themselves.
Parasol Projects’ pop-up nature invites the audience to live in the moment and to process these paintings in an ephemeral world, grasping your attention for that moment. Come, for a live broadcast.
Odele Eleanor Zhang resides in Brooklyn, New York. For more information on her extant work, please visit: http://www.odele.co/
2 Rivington St
August 22-27 / 10am-6pm
Preview, Tuesday, August 22: 6-8pm
Opening Reception: August 23, 6-8pm
Closing Reception: August 26, 3-6pm