Abstract painting is, like most forms of art, a man’s world; yet, female contemporary abstract painters often hesitate to explicitly acknowledge feminist ideologies in their artwork. Molly Welsh and Annie Bielski are women painting themselves up against a wall: their paintings indirectly address stereotypes of femininity through an obsessive oscillation between excess and asceticism that results in a calculated eroticism. The press release for their show at Lodos Contemporáneo in Logan Square, “Heavy Pettings,” is an excerpt from a manual for teenagers from the 1950s that preaches restraint in sexual relationships. It reads, in part: “Going steady is not wise when it results in physical stimulation and excitation that is too frequent or too intense.” Each painter seeks to simultaneously express and bridle this intensity.
Welsh’s paintings formally hint at a guilty overindulgence: they are confidently overworked, yet, in certain moments, oddly restrained. In “Bad News,” short, jerky brushstrokes are straight-jacketed into rooms and boxes in a layered and frustrated painting as a cat ominously looks in; in “The Big Surprise,” the cat gazes into a confusing scene of a dramatic silver line bifurcating two shades pulled apart to reveal a crisscross of half-started lines and patterning overtop pleasantly emergent anthropomorphic forms.
Bielski’s “Surrogate,” a small, romantically earnest painting that she fondly refers to as “a fertile old person,” depicts something like a saint comfortably wrapped in a silver shawl, a tiny heart shape nestled into its fleshy and undetailed face. A little tendril of a hand or errant bile-colored material is left pooling on its chest. In “Rockwell,” a generously large painting, a thick latticework of black oil paint lays thickly over patches of color and collage, resulting in a complex and alienating architectural composition.
We know what it feels like to be romantically delirious, but these paintings aren’t quite that feeling—for me, at least. How far must the artist go before her paintings feel vulnerable; how much is too much? Sometimes a bold, romantic move on the first date—like a tug on the wrist on the cold walk home—is what ends up really working after all. (Sofia Leiby)
Through January 31 at Lodos Contemporáneo, 3106 West Fullerton (Dog and Bone Space)