Review | Slow Seeing: Erin E. Castellan

July 06, 2017 by DANNY OLDA | VISUAL ARTS
Erin E. Castellan; Auguri, Auguri ping pong ping pong (detail); Thread, yarn, sequins, latex paint. Photograph by Mikell Herrick.
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In her new solo exhibition at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Slow Seeing, Artist Erin E. Castellan marries painting and textiles, two disciplines so saturated in meaning and collective memory that (as the title suggests) there is really only one way to experience the exhibition: slowly. Slow Seeing is not especially challenging; it isn’t a difficult knot to untie. Rather, there are many stitches to pick at, forming layers to flip through and try on.

Erin E. Castellan; Corporeal; Thread, yarn, acrylic/latex paint, fabric. Photograph by Mikell Herrick

Consider her piece, Corporeal. To continue the metaphor, which thread should we pull on first? The title indicates that the work relates to the physical body, made plain enough by its palette and construction. Reddish yarn knotted like muscles or guts stretches from the top corners of the composition, like a body dissected, splayed and pinned. The overall effect is a fresh visual echoing and perhaps overt reference to Francis Bacon’s Painting (1946). In turn, this necessarily recalls scenes of the Crucifixion, arguably the most conceptually loaded icon in both Western art and religion.

Further, while the word and title Corporeal can relate to the physical body situated in opposition to the spiritual (see previous sentence), it is also etymologically related to corpus, a term often used to refer to an artist’s body of work. The creature is split wide down the middle of the composition, terminally vulnerable, sacrificed, exposing its innards—a gory allegory of art making. So again, which thread–the body, Francis Bacon, the Crucifixion, art making—to pull first? There’s an entire exhibition waiting.

Slow Seeing as a whole follows suit: in form and content it’s a slow burn but an affecting one if you allow it. The work doesn’t lobby for your Instagram double-tap nor can be swiftly “gotten” like a visual bon mot. Instead, it extends an invitation for a different sort of engagement.

An invitation may be precisely what is proffered in A Curtain (for C.W. Peale). Reds and yellows softly bleed through and around each other on a light panel of fabric. This is juxtaposed against a carefully embroidered red velvet “curtain” that heavily anchors the piece to one side.

As the folds of velvet indicate, the curtain is being pulled aside, parting to offer a view of the painting proper. Again, Castellan offers a visual idiom with a rich art historical parallel. When he was 81 years old, American painter C.W. Peale (of Castellan’s title) produced a self-portrait titled The Artist in His Museum (1822). In the portrait, Peale lifts a gold tasseled, heavy red velvet curtain to reveal a museum filled with natural curiosities stretching into the background. A subtle look of pride in his face pairs with a subtle gesture of invitation in his hand to beckon the viewer to inspect his collection.

Erin E. Castellan; A Curtain (for C.W. Peale); Thread, acrylic/latex paint, fabric. Photograph by Mikell Herrick

It may be that, here, Castellan extends an invitation to her own collection of sorts. In her painting, however, there are no neat rows of carefully cataloged artifacts. Instead, colors of drying blood and bile blossom, congeal and flow into forms hazily evoking an opened chest and belly. She cleverly engages the complex relationship between the artist, audience and gallery space through a nod to Peale’s painting while managing to keep the piece characteristically intimate.

Like Peale’s painting, Castellan’s A Curtain along with many of the pieces in the exhibition recede into the distance, so to say, opening onto an agglomeration of ideas and emotions available for a viewer’s scrutiny to a viewer’s gain. Necessarily, this is best paired with a generous portion of your day. Slow Seeing doesn’t really demand a lot of time, but the work exponentially benefits from it. A rushed visit to the exhibition is like approaching and inspecting Peale’s curtain.

Taking your time with Slow Seeing is to draw the curtain and step beyond it.

Slow Seeing: Erin E. Castellan will be exhibited at the Dunedin Fine Art Center through Aug. 18. You can find more information here.

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