At the heart of Elsa Muñoz’s exhibition of recent seascapes, landscapes, still-lifes and portraits seems to be a coming-of-age drama with recent or impending tragedies that may or may not be autobiographical. The sun never penetrates a humid atmosphere of sadness that hangs over these dark images, even when the artist steps outside to share a daylight view of Ireland or Mexico. All the paintings are so quiet!—as quiet as Vermeer. The interior views feature the slender figure of a young woman, alone, never facing the viewer, and always in front of a door or window. In one version she is opening a door for a presumed visitor, but she is so cautious, and the lock on the door is so large, heavy and prominent.
Another of Muñoz’s recurring themes is a burned-out forest at night. The foliage gone, the trunks still standing, and a few red embers still glowing. Has some intense relationship just gone up in flames? In seven paintings we retreat to a shoreline at night. Beneath the black infinity of space, all we see are the tips of a few waves calmly rolling toward us, lapping the beach. The entire exhibition feels like scenes from an art-house movie about a shy young character who will be just as alone at the end of the film as she was at the beginning. We have great hopes for the heroine, because she appears so sensitive, focused and self-aware. But she still hasn’t escaped a childhood that holds her as tightly as the hard, smooth finished surface of all these oil paintings on panel. Most art looks better when immersed in one-person shows, but this solo show sets such a compelling story that it is difficult to imagine the paintings hung apart from it. It’s a “song of myself” from “out of the cradle endlessly rocking.” (Chris Miller)
Through June 1 at Zygman Voss Gallery, 222 West Superior, #1E