Tinney Contemporary through December 23
This winter, Tinney Contemporary presents artist Patricia Bellan-Gillen’s latest ruminations in visual art. The exhibition title, Willful Wondering and Disorderly Notions, suggests the experience Bellan-Gillen puts forward with her art. She explains that “wondering” is one of the most important aspects when engaging with her work: “‘Wonder’ has two connotations. One is awe, joy, rapture, and to wonder is also to think. I’ve tried to bring both of those elements into the work.”
In this third exhibition of her work in Nashville, Bellan-Gillen continues using animals, nature, and technology as bearers of meaning. Through juxtapositions of imagery, texture, colors, symbols, and ideas she creates art that ignites curiosity. While there is not a clear narrative, she aims to communicate through her art. She expects viewers to engage with the imagery so that both common and personal interpretations arise. “We all have different experiences; we all might see the color blue as a symbol for differing things. Each piece is set up to pull people in and pull upon what they know. They are not set up for me to relate a 1:1 idea I have; they are made to pull people in and evoke their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the work.”
The artwork on exhibit at Tinney Contemporary ranges in size from 13 feet to 2 feet, which allows Bellan-Gillen to engage viewers in a particular way. As she explains, “I feel I work best at extremes. The large-scale works are almost like stage sets. When you are a few feet away, your vision is primarily my image. On the smaller side, you really have to pull in close to notice something.”
The new, smaller series on paper consists of drawings that Bellan-Gillen didn’t expect to show with her other artworks. However, she found that they successfully and uniquely distill concepts encountered in her other art. The young girls or bears appear unassuming in their whimsical dresses, but the patterns on their clothing reveal significant juxtapositions ripe for contemplation. As is true in all of her work, nothing is cute for the sake of cute. The artist explains, “I like the culmination of something that walks its way towards cute but has serious thoughts that underscore it.” Incorporating humor, beauty, and cuteness into her work allows her to alleviate discomfort and draw the viewer in and provide a space for reverie.
An example from this series, Jonah’s Daughter is filled with imagery that comes from Bellan-Gillen’s interest in the “pull between wonder and woe.” As the title suggests, this work takes a feminist turn on the biblical story of Jonah who was thrown from a boat, swallowed by a whale, spit out on land three days later by the grace of God, and then continued a painful journey. The leviathan image featured in this work is appropriated from medieval interpretations of the sea mammal, which the artist selected because it provides a time signature. She explains, “It allows me to have something old and something new.” While that image is specific, the meaning is not. Bellan-Gillen has incorporated the whale from Moby Dick in other work, and whales have come to symbolize to her “the tension that pulls us toward something that we know is not good for us, but we go after it anyway.” The depictions of little girls playing accordions on floating rafts that encircle the beast drive home the idea that they, though young and innocent, are also susceptible to this trap.
At nearly six feet tall, the fox squirrel featured in Distortion Distraction (Ratatoskr) commands attention. Bellan-Gillen became interested in the Nordic myth in which the squirrel runs up and down the tree of life, keeping the giants on the top and the giants on the bottom from going to war, and she realized Ratatoskr has a lot in common with the 1960s cartoon character Rocky the Squirrel, who also kept peace by managing opposition parties—Boris and Natasha and Bullwinkle. Nestled among layers of stenciled foliage in the center of the work, the finely rendered creature is depicted releasing television screens with dazzle patterns over small human figures along the bottom of the composition.The recurring dazzle pattern in works such as Mediated Orthodoxies/New Wonderland and Distortion Distraction (Ratatoskr) is inspired by camouflage introduced to the military during World War I and II by artist Norman Wilkinson. Artists such as Annie Albers and Lee Krasner were commissioned to paint military vessels in black-and-white designs that would obscure them as they sat in the water. Much like a pack of zebras, the simple lines and colors confuse the eye and make the ships difficult to target. In her work the patterns usually appear on television screens and suggest interference and deception. Here again the viewer is asked to wonder, this time about the pattern on the screen that is both striking and perplexing.
The power of Bellan-Gillen’s work remains in the imaginations of viewers wondering about the art in front of them as much as the researched and intuitive images the artist incorporates into her compositions. “I love it when someone comes up to me and tells me something that I didn’t know about it.” She leaves room for mystery in her work and looks forward to experiencing her own art from Nashville audience perspectives.
“I feel I work best at extremes. The large-scale works are almost like stage sets.”
Willful Wondering and Disorderly Notions is on view at Tinney Contemporary through December 23. For more information, visit www.tinneycontemporary.com. To see more of Bellan-Gillen’s work, visit www.patriciabellangillen.com.