Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meg Aubrey emphasizes white space in I Just Live Here

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge OUT OF CONTEXT: Meg Aubrey's "Trash Day," 2008
  • OUT OF CONTEXT: Meg Aubrey's "Trash Day," 2008

Meg Aubrey’s MFA thesis show, I Just Live Here, at Gallery Stokes is like a debutante ball: Both serve up white, southern womanhood with a saccharine aftertaste to feed mythologies of place and time.

Aubrey’s 10 medium-size oil paintings pursue a cast of female characters through prosperity-era, suburban America. In “New Tree,” two women sit facing each other in spindly patio chairs at a stiff little cafe table. The painting is keyed-up so that the light has an overexposed, sun-drenched quality. We might imagine a shopping center parking lot or mini-mall courtyard behind them, but such context has been removed. Instead, a flat wash of solid sky blue fills the background and middle distance. Just off to the right in the midst of this arid environment, an impossible little tree grows, artificially tied down in an artificial circle of artificially manicured grass.

All the women in Aubrey’s paintings inhabit similar deserts of suburban precision.

They cross vast parking lots wearing perfect tennis outfits, make nervous cell phone calls, and show off their glinting jewelry under a pitiless sun. They all wear sunglasses. Bottle blond is the hair color of choice.

Aubrey’s technique in her portraits and figure work is competent but not exceptional. A few heavy-handed brushstrokes on the contours of an arm in “New Tree” or the suburbanite’s cheek in the close-up portrait “Call Me” undermine the paintings' overall structures.

But Aubrey's work comes alive when she allows the landscape to dominate; when the human figure is only a foil for expressing just how empty her suburban landscape is. Like “New Tree,” several other paintings witness the surgical removal of all architectural structures from the composition. Only monotonous lawns, identical mailboxes and a few other contextual clues remain to let us know where we are. When the human figure disappears entirely, as in “Trash Day” in which trashcans line an empty street, the effect is truly chilling.

The notion of suburbia as that place where youth and joy go to die a little every day is well-mapped territory. But artists don’t break news to us — they have insights. Aubrey’s statement is a promising glimmer that the subject may not yet be exhausted.

Meg Aubrey: I Just Live Here Through Feb. 21. Free. Fri., noon-6 p.m.; Sat., 1-5 p.m. Gallery Stokes, 261 Walker St. 678-770-7812.

(Photo courtesy Gallery Stokes)

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