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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Kate Teale: The Housed at Opalka Gallery

Kate Teale: left, Raft 2009; right Floating World 2010
oil on mulberry paper on canvas and board
While lovers will be enjoying flowers and chocolates this Valentine's weekend, I've got a different suggestion for lovers of art: good ol' drawing and painting. In a world overstuffed with postmodernist theorists, it's a tonic to walk into Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery and see graphite on paper and oils on board by the extremely talented Kate Teale, an English artist now established in New York City, who should be a household name, but was a new discovery for me.

Outside There is Raging Chaos 2014
oil on mulberry paper on canvas and board
Teale's exhibition of six graphite drawings and 18 oil paintings, titled The Housed, was curated by Don Desmett at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and is on tour. It also includes a couple of extremely long (about 30-foot) digital prints from original drawings and a large direct wall drawing that was executed on-site with student help. The installation suits the high, open space of the Opalka perfectly, allowing the larger works and groupings to breathe, while melding into a cohesive whole that the viewer can digest in reasonable bites.

Teale's style and technique border on photo-realism; however, she also flirts with formal abstraction, as she explores her subjects of rumpled beds, seascapes, windows, and the human form nearly as dispassionately as a scientist studies a lab rat. Not that the work is cold - in fact, it feels intensely personal - but that Teale takes the position of an outsider looking in at herself and her intimate surroundings.

All In #13 2013, graphite on paper
Conceptually, the title of the show is almost a tease. The artist is making a reference to a term the homeless use for the rest of us - to them, we are "the housed" - yet she takes her statement no further, leaving us to muse on the political or social implications of this quiet, contemplative, largely self-referential body of work. Actually, it's several bodies of work, which many would view as distinct, yet they do hold together, in part due to Teale's meticulous technique, in part due to the reduced palette that largely removes the separation between painting and drawing.

Through the Night 2006-2010
oil on mulberry paper on canvas and board
A series of eight unframed paintings titled Through the Night, all vertical compositions 32" by 38", dominates the show, with its detailed representation of the artist asleep in bed with her husband, as captured at half-hour intervals by an automatic camera. The series is characterized by detailed rendering and extremely muted shades of a limited range of pinks, greens and greys, with large areas left white. Each example selects different centers of interest: Pillows, or faces, or hands and arms - leaving the painting looking not so much unfinished as properly underdone - like a delicious steak or grilled vegetables.

These quasi-landscapes of domesticity tie in to three unpopulated bedscapes also on view (including the two shown at the top of this post, which in the exhibition are presented one above the other, rather than side by side), those in turn tie in to several graphite seascapes, and those tie in to a couple of very large striped landscapes that return our thoughts to the mattress.

Ghost 2013oil on mulberry paper
on canvas and board
Continuing the connections, those mattress-ticking stripes appear drawn directly from the Venetian blinds in a small, perfectly rendered window frame (titled Ghost) and it in turn ties to a group of four larger external views of brownstone windows that introduce a bright yellow into the mix, one of which carries the same title as the show itself (another, with the evocative title, Outside There is Raging Chaos, is reproduced above right).

Altogether, Teale's show holds our interest in an understated way that is as compelling as louder statements' grip, and the extended time and attention that the work demanded of its maker - and earns from its viewers - leads to equally longer-lasting impacts.

Kate Teale: The Housed is accompanied by a beautifully produced catalog (attractively priced at $10) that features an essay by Lucy Lippard. The show continues through April 10.

Landfall 2014, oil on mulberry paper on canvas and board

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