On Encountering the Mysterious Primal Symbols of Marie Gailland

Lapin et Violette, Paintings 63 x 63

The work of the French artist Marie Gailland is full of surprises, due to her ability to combine the gestural energy of Neo-Expressionism with subject matter as unexpected as that of  the most imaginative talents among the New Image School painters who emerged in the 1980s.
    What sets Gailland apart from either group, however, is her stated goal of  “combining the spiritual and the sensual,” with blue hues representing the former and reds the latter. One has the feeling that the forms in her paintings must arrive intuitively, since nothing in her compositions appears calculated for effect. Rather her imagery has the look of having sprung up from the subconscious during the act of painting. Indeed, confronting Gailland’s bold, almost primitively powerful compositions in acrylic or mixed media on canvas, the viewer is hard put to determine what came first, image or gesture. One sterling example is her acrylic on canvas “Lapin et Violette,” in which a long-eared creature resembling a uniquely feral rabbit, delineated in a broad black brushstrokes, peers almost guiltily over its shoulder as though surprised while preparing to devour a roughly brushed-in purple flower. It is a mysterious image, obscure yet evocative of an emotion, rather than of a specific creature, as though the artist is endeavoring to open some submerged psychic channel between herself and the viewer. In fact Gailland has confessed to having “an almost symbiotic empathy for animals,” and adds that she feels “the whole of nature as a great body to which it belongs organically.”
    In another large work in acrylic on canvas, “Animal, 1,” a lean, black, simplified creature with blue and pink liquid rivulets dripping down from its underbelly  –– almost the four-legged equivalent of a human stick-figure –– suggests a baby critter of some undetermined species. It is cropped so that the tip of its snout is cut off at the left top corner of the otherwise bare canvas, as though either suckling on or seeking an unseen teat. In either case, it is an oddly poignant image of helpless dependance, or needy longing.
    Horses, also boldly painted in tar-black pigment that creates the silhouetted effect of ghosts or shadows, are among the most frequently recurring animals in Gailland’s compositions. In “Cheval aux Oreilles Rouges,” a mythic galloping steed with ears suggesting orange flames is partially obscured by a more precise black and yellow spiral. And in “Cheval � la Coupe avec Fleurs,” a tamer equine figure gazes down at a vessel containing two large violet flowers.    
    In yet another mixed media work on canvas, titled “Po�me Sauvage � la Couronne Rouge,” Gailland summons up a form resembling a floating stogie, seemingly nuzzling a mask-like, mostly disembodied (except for the linear suggestion of one hand and sloping shoulder) delicate white face with its red lighted tip. Enmeshed in a vigorously brushed mass of white pigment that could suggest a cloud of smoke, this mask-like visage wears a serene expression. One might think of Freud’s famous Groucho Marxian one-liner “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” However, it would seem no less frivolous to append too-obvious meanings to the symbols in Marie Gailland’s paintings than to those in the mature works of Philip Guston. Which is to say: Gailland, like that older artist, who turned his back on an established career as an esteemed Abstract Expressionist to pursue cartoon-like images deep within his subconscious, is creating imagery with a primal force that is impossible to ignore. Nor would one wish to do so, given the pleasure that her paintings provide for their purely aesthetic attributes, as well as for their intriguing subject matter.
–– Maurice Taplinger

Marie Gailland, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, through April 17, 2014
Reception: Thursday, April 3, 6 -8 pm

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