Yael Brotman: Scaffolding / Martha Eleen: My Space

Yael Brotman and Martha Eleen are artists whose eyes and minds are open. They pay serious attention to things most people don’t notice and create structural frameworks that defy rhythmic expectations.  This, in part, enables them to make thoughtful, original art that integrates the inherent contradictions they encounter.

Martha Eleen, My Space, installation view.

Eleen has an intense relationship with the rooms she paints that suggests a deep familiarity and almost Proustian attention to the nuance of shadow and shift of plane. Through her pentimento she searches for the right definition of these spaces. Her rooms don’t look out through expensive picture windows. They are functional and economical; they let in light and air, and as an unplanned consequence, create an awkwardly cropped view of the outdoors. She accepts the arbitrariness of this subject matter in a “make the best of it” way by painting the world we see and not a world in its best clothes and company manners.

Martha Eleen, Untitled, 2013, oil on wood, 30″ x 30″. Courtesy of the artist.

Her interiors have an almost domestic smell or, in the case of the three Summer paintings, the smell of the earth and forest coming into a cool room. When she paints a wall, she seems also to be painting the air between us and the wall; sometimes a shadow moving on the wall – the kind you passively watch when you’re too lazy to turn your head away.

They aren’t busy paintings but they aren’t calm either. The rooms contain the more intensely painted things:  rumpled crazy quilts on the beds, a red quilted jacket, reflections on the trunk, window sills (liminal)(escape!), a still life on the desk, bits of trees, the dazzling glare of snow on a roof as if a small epiphany has found her.

Martha Eleen, Untitled, 2013, oil on wood, 30″ x 30″. Courtesy of the artist.

There is an unpredictable structure and fragmentation inside and out, unusual cropping, and mirrors that interrupt our sense of what is where. In spite of these dislocations, the rooms seem comfortable with themselves, integrating their contradictions and almost self-aware, ready.

Yael Brotman, Scaffolding

Brotman has built models that contrast the structure above (bridges, a boardwalk) with confusion below or inside (dubious scaffolding, piers you wouldn’t want to test your weight on, a snow fence that winds itself into mystery). Her constructions are made from foamcore covered with etched Japanese paper patterns that are enlarged knitted motifs from fragments of Aran Islands sweaters. The result is a hard object that suggests its opposite – something tender, soft and warm.

Yael Brotman, Trestle, 2013, etching on Kurotani and Taiwanese papers, foamcore, acrylic, adhesive, 22”H x 30”W x 18”D. Courtesy of the artist. 

Based  on fragments, they  tell only a partial story. The colors are monochromatic enlivened with colored flecks. The general effect is to create a marvelous dappled surface so busy it is hard for the eye to know where to alight. When it finally lands, the eye tends to rest on one of these small bits of colour that wait   like little presents. Adding to this pleasant confusion are complex shadows and reflections of the structures, which are mounted on glass.

Yael Brotman, Tatlin’s Fence, 2014, etching on Japanese paper, foamcore, adhesive, 40”H x 36”W x 39”D. Courtesy of the artist.

Because the sculpture comfortably appears both real and imaginary, it glides with a magical realist’s touch into a world of symbols and suggests the precariousness of human life and human enterprises. At the same time, the fundamental warmth of the surfaces reassuring us seems to say, “Don’t worry, it will be alright”.

Libby Hague

*Exhibition information: March 20 – April 20, 2014, Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 5, Sun 1 – 4 p.m.

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