MEACHAM MIXES SURREALISM, WHIMSY
In Annabelle Meacham’s long career as a painter, she often described her style and method as surrealism. What does that mean?
My “Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition,” defines surrealism as “the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural juxtapositions or combinations.” The term, from the French for “above realism,” was coined in the early 20th century by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and taken up in the 1920s by Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and other participants in the formal Surrealist movement in their effort to plumb the depths of the Freudian dream-world, in the aftermath of the devastation of World War I, and bring it to the surface. It’s almost needless to say that the impulse was dark and the results mainly disturbing.
Now, it’s true that Meacham’sworksometimes tiptoed at the edges of darkness, but her “juxtapositions or combinations” were more typically sunny and droll, while being psychologically acute. We could even say that her paintings were more whimsical than surreal, and in her exhibition, “My Element,” at L Ross Gallery through May 28, she continues that trend.
As long as we have the dictionary open, let’s look up whimsical.
Merriam Webster says: “full of, actuated by, or exhibiting whims; resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice.” I think that’s more the note we’re looking for in Meacham’s work, now, that is to say, delight and delicacy, fancy and the fantastic, wit and wantonness, even, perhaps, more than a passing glance at the inexorable engines of mortality.
The piece that caught my attention first in this show is “My Adventure,” a painting that exudes a storybook aura common to many of these works. A blond-haired girl, a wreath of flowers in her hair, wearing a pink top and striped pants, sits astride a large American Goldfinch, accurately rendered with his bright yellow body and black cap and wings. The landscape is simple and iconic; the light blue sky in the background is densely patterned, as is the gold frame, lending a hierarchical air. Are we looking at a dream, a tale, a vision? This unanswerable question reinforces the image’s defiance of interpretation, even as its sense of mystery accentuates the magnetic attraction.
Meacham is at her best when she manipulates that feeling of mystery and ambiguity, as in a series of three “Layered Realities” paintings that seem to reach deeply into the personal element of the exhibition title. The most striking of these is “Layered Realities: Sunset and the Commencement of Dreams,” a 30-by-40-inch canvas divided into three unequal sections — all the works are acrylic on canvas or paper — that with its floral motifs, its pair of birds sitting on a branch facing opposite directions, and its contrasting colors, both bright and deep, seems to encapsulate the human yearning to comprehend the ambivalence of space and time, life and death.
The artist occasionally depends on a Magritte-like device that forces her idiosyncrasy into cliché. This occurs, for example, in “There Is a Simple Land, for Dreaming,” in which a brilliant half-moon shines on a full, round tree so the tree’s shadow takes the shape of the half-moon. One’s reaction tends toward, “Oh, yeah, right, I get it.” And the exhibition reveals an unwelcome strain of sentimentality, as in five small paintings of differently-posed rabbits wearing little Elizabethan collars. Still, it’s always worthwhile seeing what Meacham’s chimerical imagination dredges from her slightly bent perspective, especially when she focuses on the dusk-like commonality of our hopes and fears.
Annabelle Meacham’s “The Adventure,” acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 30-by-30 inches from her “My Element” exhibition at L Ross Gallery through May 28.