Barbara Owen, Alicia Renadette and Kate Blacklock are the artists included in “Floralism” at Newport’s Coastal Contemporary Gallery. Continuing through December 8, the exhibition is a clever exploration of botanical excess and blooming. Gallerist Shari Wechsler approaches the topic as a feminist platform acknowledging nature’s ability to flourish and prevail. As a whole, the content includes fascinating statement art that is also certainly intimate enough for audiences to take home. For client convenience, Wechsler offers the option of purchasing with Art Money that advertises itself as a vehicle to “buy now, pay later.”
Before the exhibition, I made a point to visit Alicia Renadette’s studio at Atlantic Mills in Providence specifically to watch the artist and art dealer select for “Floralism.” It was impossible not to notice the volume of materials organized and ready to be repurposed by the artist.
Renadette seemingly collects everything. In our conversation, it became obvious that her collecting proclivities are actually quite focused. She described her aesthetic as sparked by a job she once had creating museum dioramas. With some similarity, the artist’s style of visual aggregate culminates into environments of layered narrative. “Floralism” includes her asteroid-like mini-reliefs grouped on the wall. These forms are made of Styrofoam, household screening, artificial flowers, plastic cocktail swords, tiny paper cocktail umbrellas and other bric-a-brac. The total effect makes a delightfully furry looking density of accumulated elements.
Renadette’s floor installation, “Regenerate,” has been installed as if emerging directly from the gallery’s floorboards like asparagus tubers shooting up from the ground. The objects from which it was made communicate en masse a feminist aesthetic. Charred tuber tips, in a wall installation by Renadette, relate nicely to Kate Blacklock’s photographic imagery, which is shown on a gallery wall nearby.
A hallmark of Barbara Owen’s collage work is luminous color that is evident in the artworks on view in “Floralism.” Included are collages that Owen created from chiffonades of hand-painted and hand-cut paper. There are also beautiful excerpts from her “Blooms” series. Lately, Owen splits her time between Rhode Island and New York City while matriculating for an MFA at the School of Visual Arts; her studio is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
As it happens, in an Artist Profile in a past “Artscope” Anniversary issue, I described visiting her studio, mentioning that Owen’s methods have relationship to Matisse’s late-career practice of using hand-painted papers in his collages. Owen, like Matisse, has a way with cutting paper to create shapes and arabesques of line. Of course, the gesture of her slices is as personal an identifier as an artist’s pencil stroke. Her sense of color, form and line feels contemporary, fresh and resonant.
Kate Blacklock’s manipulated photography on aluminum in “Floralism” communicates Hyper-realistic intensity. Wechsler chose these artworks at Blacklock’s Providence studio. The artist’s raw material as subject matter came from her garden, which she has carefully tended for years. In this case, Rembrandt tulips are the focus of her attention with stems and leaves included. Blacklock arranged these in contortions of form on a scanner revealing lights and darks, which are compositionally reminiscent of Flemish still-life painting and suggest the subtle contemplative surfaces of Chinese scholar’s rocks. The artist’s photographs simultaneously explore Eastern and Western conventions of beauty.
“Floralism” is not purely pretty. There is depth to the aesthetic content in this exhibition, which in its way seems quite sublime.
(“Floralism” continues through December 8 at Coastal Contemporary Gallery, 491 Thames St., Newport, Rhode Island. For more information, call (401) 612-6121.)