A common denominator of so much of the contemporary art being produced these days is how restrained it is.
The other-directed postmodern artist is too concerned with appearing sophisticated to really delve in the risky business of self-knowledge. After all, it’s so much simpler to toy with tasteful minimalism and abstraction that eliminates or obscures explicit personal expression, rather than display real personality in the work. It’s so much safer to appropriate and reference rather than to create. It’s easier to get approval when conforming to communal expectations, rather than exploring one’s own unique potential. Ultimately though, such conventional, timid approaches can never develop into compelling work.
Fortunately, not all artists are attempting to ingratiate instead of asserting their true natures. In the Warehouse 1005 exhibit “Bipolar Clowns and Spirit Babies” painter Shelley Whiting fearlessly represents an honest yet loving take on flawed humanity, using herself as the starting point.
Shelley puts right out there all the things that are most important in life, but which are usually considered out of bounds to the jaded art world: faith, family ties, authentically challenging personal problems as opposed to fashionable grievances and social causes, a sense of resolute accountability. This might all sound ponderous but these serious topics are explored with infectious joy, enthusiasm and goofy humor. It’s a potent combination: light-hearted reverence.
The works are massive, painted on wood panels ranging up to 8’ x 4’. The size of the panels is used to great effect, creating a larger-then-life format for a powerful series of colorful, distorted portraits and figurative paintings. Their faces get in your face; assertive, grinning, grimacing, they will not be denied. The bodies become iconic, flattened into squishy squashed shapes, standing in abstracted space, flashing patterns of opulent metallics and chromatic dots, spirals and blobs. The acrylics are applied with abandon, impasto effectively used to show dynamic brushwork.
There is a horror vacui intensity spread across the entire surfaces of these pieces, reflecting the concentration of the determined artist. Yet all the mark making and deformations contribute to an overall cohesion; a unified and resolved image emerges.
Shelley Whiting’s paintings present a strong statement on the excitement of the examined life. She knows herself, warts and all, and generously shares that knowledge with the audience. Raw and energetic, questioning but trusting, Shelley communicates the transcendental capacity of the intuitive artist.