WORDS Audrey Molloy
Angie Renfro debuts in Nashville with (de)construction (2017), an expressive series of floral paintings which employ surface condition as an equivalency for personal narrative. The newly Nashville-based artist is best known for her painterly depictions of desolate landscapes from her previous body of work industry (2009– 2016)—a practice thematically centered on what the artist terms a “longing for connection.” (de)construction is a continuation of Renfro’s investigations of self through the canvas originally manifest in those early works.
In industry, Renfro activates her layering of paint by emphasizing the painting’s various regressive and intermediary states of process. Previous marks, hues, and figurative shapes float softly behind the most recently applied veneers of oil. In the lines we draw (2013), acrid magenta and heavy umber brushstrokes form the hulking shape of a lone industrial mass. The figure is emergent from the bottom of the canvas and ensconced in an irreverently applied swath of dusty blue, an all-over application whose near-opaque surface blushes prior hues. To put things into perspective (2014) features a receding line of power lines made visually splintered by dripping lines of paint.
Fragility (2017) from (de)construction proceeds similarly; muted orange, verdant blue, and deep yellow brushstrokes coalesce at the center of the canvas to form the loosest expression of flora. Horizonless and floating untethered to any environment, the figure recalls the disparate nature and uncertain scale of those prior industrial forms.
“When I’m painting it feels like sculpting to me. I think what I really love in painting—what I’ve figured out over the years—is painting the negative space. That’s where I get really lost,” said Renfro. “That’s one thing I love about the organic nature of these, because the negative space is so fun and so easy to get lost in. It totally feels like sculpting to me when I’m kind of taking away from the positive space and adding negative space. I like that push and pull.”
The manner in which Renfro approaches her figurative subjects, this reductive and additive process of painting, formally asserts depth up from the surface of the canvas. Renfro thoroughly works the illusion of verifiable depth in (de)construction and industry by negotiating the romantic integrity of the picture plane. As in everything is as it was, industry (2011), painterly drips and sweeping brushstrokes are intermittently revealed beyond the surface’s topmost pale layers—a conscious mark-making that signals the artist’s hand at work.
“I kind of destroy and rebuild as I’m painting, which is super cathartic. Layers upon layers of paintings that I add to, take away from, and destroy what was there, so they are sort of a meditation on accepting uncertainty,” said Renfro. “As I’m painting I work through life lessons—knowing that I don’t have control, things happen outside of my control, but I can control how I respond to it. In this case, I’m responding by trying to create something beautiful.”
This frank assertion of the literal action of painting recalls mid-century gestural abstraction, a process wherein expressive brushwork and instinctive creative actions were employed by artists to convey unfettered emotional states. Art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss in “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (1985) writes that these abstract expressionist concepts “call for an interpretative model based on the analogy between the work and its maker: the work’s surface thought of as existing in relation to its “depth” much the way that the exterior of the human subject is understood to relate to his internal, or true, self.”
This manner of seeing and interpreting was fundamental to early abstraction and later conceptual practices as it engaged the psychology of the artist as both quantitative substance and basis for theory. Seen most readily in the expressive, multi-layered works in (de)construction, Renfro likewise posits the canvas as an emotive equivalency for her personal experience, enacting the process of painting to both consider and aestheticize personal narrative.
“This work is also a meditation in self-doubt, too, because as I’m painting and adding a layer, I often think I’ve just ruined it—that part I like—and I have to trust that it’s going to work out. There’s no one way something needs to go, and even if I’ve messed up part of it, a new part will emerge that I like,” said Renfro. “With this [new] series, I don’t know what it’s going to look like when it’s finished. For me, that’s also an analogy or a life lesson. I’m never going to get to a place where I feel like I’ve figured it out, but the important thing is to keep asking questions.”
Understood exclusively through the perceived interior mind of the artist, aesthetic choices, medium specificity, and function are correlated in (de)construction and industry to that of the artist’s psychology, albeit their subjective variation. Renfro personifies the paint and canvas through a layering process whose likeness is most readily akin to that of the artist’s internal self. The formal significance of Renfro’s work is grounded in the biographical matrix of its author, its condition of surface and depth most actively related to our consideration of the human mind.
See more of Angie Renfro’s work at www.angierenfro.com.