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Review: Elizabeth Shreve/Carl Hammer Gallery

Painting, River North Add comments

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Elizabeth Shreve, a former psychologist, mines the iconographic unconscious of our culture, tweaking the styles of grocery circulars and shoe-store catalogues. Female figures, birds and desserts predominate in paintings that are nothing if not overindulgent. Previously balancing buffets of glistening cold cuts with decapitated flowers and syrupy pancakes, Shreve mounted a full-frontal assault, turning desire into disgust. The current exhibition, “Fears and Desires Magnifique,” represents a new turn. In contrast to her previous top-heavy nauseating images, the new works offer, instead of indictment, a dreamy vision of bouquets and party hats, color wheels recapitulating Ferris wheels and all feeling playful, pleasurable.

“The pleasures of life were always at her fingertips and needed no explanation or judgment,” Shreve writes in one of the cartoons, “Jidjits,” collected alongside the new paintings, and it is a sentiment that speaks to the new tone in her work. The nude in “Four Birds” is defined by strength of stance and self-determining gaze. Populating a fantastic space brimming with food, flowers, cartoon bugs and a distant circus tent, her attention remains elsewhere. In the lower corner of the painting, at crotch level, a bee rises from a box, likewise undistracted by the chock-a-block visuals. As in its sister painting, “The Smile,” Shreve gives us the experience of pleasure in a world of boundless promise. Excess, after all, need not lead to gluttony. The cornucopias’ contents have been flung onto canvas, but the effect, rather than sickening or shameful, is exhilarating—perhaps best represented by the ever-present color wheels, exemplifications of the potentials of painting itself, the abundance of options to be fingered, tasted, and played with.

Shreve’s is also kinetic art, bristling with surface energy; her paintings have an intense, sketch-like quality, finished elements swirling alongside elements with a perpetual in-process feel, a sense nicely echoed by the cartoons. In the cartoons, too, Shreve can speak of the tactile pleasures of her created world. Characters joyfully eschew utensils at the dinner table, ponder the “wonderful squeky (sic) blobs of the past,” and sing out in celebration of “confectional wisdom.” “Fears and Desires Magnifique” marks a nice change; Shreve’s characteristic excess has become a source of pleasure. (Spencer Dew)

Through March 27 at Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 N. Wells.

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