Spring Thaw is a concise exhibition of new paintings by Christine Gray on view at Project 4. These lushly painted canvases depict surreal landscapes reminiscent of kindergarten art class. Gray begins by constructing models with commercial materials- pipe cleaners, cut cardboard, ribbons, rabbit’s feet key chains, bits of plastic toys, and construction paper flowers to name just a few. She then paints these miniature playgrounds into a background of a blustery winter snow or hazy summer sun. Gray is not merely juxtaposing these candy colored constructs against the natural world, she is melding the two and creating a new milieu.
By incorporating several painting styles into each composition, the final products are slick yet with the occasional stroke of thick impasto. Gray draws you into each environment with tightly rendered elements of the model and then rewards you with a richly textured surface. A lifelike cardboard snowflake, dripping with spray on snow and a mud embankment made by the single stroke of a six-inch brush co-exist seamlessly.
Though I wanted to see a specific comment on the current environmental predicament we face, Gray hasn’t made it that simple. She says of her work that it “speak(s) to the dysfunction of the Martha Stewart institution for it’s presentation of perfect craft, food, entertaining and interior décor as an ‘Everyday’ goal that individuals try to imitate. I represent landscape through… themes of failed geometry, failed arhitecture, and failed illusionism.” Referencing both politics and pop culture, she speaks in the visual vocabulary of the day. The paintings of Spring Thaw are both formally stunning and conceptually stimulating.
The painting that greets you upon entering the gallery particularly impressed me. A cluster of lucky rabbits feet hangs heavily from a net of stuffed animals; a basket of paper bunny ears and pink paint rollers spills out onto a field of woven paint. Both whimsical and weighty, Pet Net prepares you for the duality that waits throughout the exhibitions.
Christine Gray received and MFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2007 and her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin. She currently teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University