Julia Martin Gallery | May 6 – June 24
WORDS Sara Lee Burd
Rather than always occupying the center of social circles, Christina Vogel enjoys walking along the perimeters. Gathering information and finding questions to explore, she returns to her studio to create art that presents discoveries and clues to an open-ended mystery. Through her clever editing, this perceptual painter ignites viewers with a desire to resolve the circumstances and form narratives about what they see in her art.
Vogel works with snapshots as source material and transforms the vivid moments she captures into an anthropological presentation of social behavior. She describes how the series began: “I found, when I was looking through all the photographs I had on my computer, I was drawn to images of groupings and gatherings. I was thinking about zeroing in on more complex situations.” She usually knows the people featured in her art because she uses her iPhone when she’s out. This allows her to document unexpected actions, expressions, and body language in authentic situations.
In Threshold, Vogel presents the outsider perspective by depicting a woman in the foreground gazing out into what seems like a party that she is not a part of yet. The participants are in the distance, a man and woman chatting and another man standing or walking while holding what looks like a drink. The pose of the central figure, with her hands in her pockets, elbows awkwardly extended, gives the viewer a sense of the uneasy feeling an observer may have when entering a social environment. A threshold is not merely a physical place represented in this painting; it is revealed to also be an adjective describing a relatable experience.
An essential formal element of Vogel’s work is the use of broad strokes of single-color paint to abstract the initial charcoal sketches she makes on the canvas. Simplifying the composition, the resulting planes of color across the works strip the figures of context, denying clear communication about who they are, what they are doing, why they are there, and how they got there. The hues she chooses complement the figures but not strictly for the same purpose. As a colorist she considers color carefully, noting that “color has a potential to suggest an emotional or psychological space. Color has weight. Sometimes I have an idea for color at the start, and sometimes it evolves or shifts as I work. Sometimes it becomes arbitrary.” Thus, the process is as important to the outcome of the work as any planning that goes into it.
A professor of painting and drawing at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Vogel is fluent in making decisions that infuse meaning and striking aesthetic appeal. In A Near Miss, Vogel depicts three men and a woman all traveling in different directions. If the scene were set in motion, two of the men would intersect the path of the woman walking toward the viewer. Her downward gaze suggests she does not see the approaching men or maybe has and does not want to interact with them. By selecting these specific figures within the composition, Vogel shows her mastery of optical painting techniques such as overlap and diminishing size to create a sense of perspective. By evoking space, the relationship between the figures becomes more apparent and encourages contemplating the juxtapositions.
The ambiguity that Vogel creates within her art provides tension that ignites imagination. In the painting In a Crowd the brushy acrylic paint obscures everything, leaving only the heads, particularly faces, of the people who are packed together. None of the figures appear to interact. A woman with a solemn yet somewhat bored expression is presented with three men who appear sad, distracted, and uninterested respectively. The questions begin with a sense of wonder about where people convey such distinct feelings within a group. Perhaps a line for coffee?
Along with her paintings, Vogel is showing her drawings at Julia Martin Gallery. She appreciates what she can accomplish with each medium because of how it affects her process. “There’s something about a piece of paper that offers up endless possibilities and potential for error in a way that a six-foot canvas requires more physical labor and the stakes feel much higher. I think that affects the way I work.” Exhibiting the works together creates a dialogue that reveals the aesthetic consistency in which she highlights her role as an observer documenting the interactions she witnesses. She maintains the flat planes across the surface in both, but instead of paint, she depicts the socializing figures within expanses of untouched paper.
By representing people removed from real-world contexts, Vogel calls upon empathy and problem solving to relate with her art. “It’s an interesting and complicated thing when you are painting someone. It’s more than just physical appearance. It is about a kind of presence. What I see in these people may be very different than what they see in themselves.” Coming to conclusions about Vogel’s art is much like the experience of a Rorschach test: It reveals the inner workings of the mind of the interpreter.
Vogel’s exhibit, To Go Unnoticed, opens with a reception on May 6 from 6 until 9 p.m. at Julia Martin Gallery and remains on view until June 24. Sara Lee Burd will lead an artist talk on June 9 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information visit www.juliamartingallery.com. See more of Vogel’s work at www.christinarenfervogel.com.