Jeanie Riddle performed a deft and brilliant triage on the McClure Gallery’s white cube with work that was at once painting, sculpture, installation and something more – something in between, something liminal. Something like ‘home’. Tiered in an evocative lateral array across those several media, this was her most complex proposition yet, and it worked on many levels. She created an environmental volume with warm emotional overtones, domestic overdraft and a cool, cerebral undertow.
Working with ideas from the domestic or quotidian in innovative fashion, Riddle made use of formal painting, plywood, MDF, latex house paint and the other materials in her toolkit. A series of large-scale abstract paintings were installed in the gallery spaces along with three in situ sculptural installations. Poised halfway between Bauhaus, our house and a Zen garden, Riddle’s latest opus struck me as being both radical and advanced even as it referenced art history (Minimalism and reductive art) in a way that lent it gravitas and authenticity, and invested it with both winning context and winsome subtext.
With a meditative palette, otherwise monochrome paintings (including one vast hypnotic pink/rose field) were sometimes leavened with occasional inflections of another hue, a different order of light, and this rewarded slow contemplation. The triad of constructions – like housing units – was seductive. Fragmented, unfinished geometries, pigment excrescences and subtle, almost imperceptible yet deliberate irregularities in angles of both paintings and built forms evaded any association with or nostalgia for formalist taxonomy.
Like earlier installations by the artist, such as ‘California’ at Circa in 2009 and ‘1 Restoration’ at the FOFA gallery of Concordia University in 2012, ‘Tenor’ was built up from hybrid materials and through the employment of eclectic techniques of facture. A few of these are normally associated with painting, both home and studio (hardware store and studio palette), some with museum dioramas (the presentation media: housing, mounts), some with carpentry trades (the scaffolding that serves as frame), and so forth. A pile of paint skins in a corner of the gallery (‘mistakes’, as the artist would say, from the hardware store) perfectly complemented both paintings and sculptures as material punctuation. The heap of skins gave rise to an overwhelmingly tactile and sensuous volume/mass.
Riddle wants to transpose issues of advanced abstract painting into three-dimensionality – and, more importantly, into the ways and spaces we live now. She wants evoke a sense of place, of home. ‘Tenor’ was an experimental art work that functioned as a welcome intervention in the gallery’s bifurcated volume as primary surface area – the placement of its various components both pictorial and sculptural ‘nested’ in a way that somehow mirrored and morphed the footprint of the larger space. Riddle once again returned to her preoccupation with taking painting into real lived space where it could play with architectural riffs and its own hybrid object status to stake a claim on the viewer that would straddle painting, sculpture, installation and domestic architecture.
The exhibition read as an unfolding architectonic with vortices that snake through our lived space. At every turn, something new and unprecedented presented itself. Both minimal and inordinately expressive, her work registers as a valuable feminist critique of the status quo in abstraction. In this exhibition, Riddle created energized spaces for the eye to work hard – and play hard – within.