Just Before Dawn II 72, Donna Talerico

By: Daniel Brown

Donna Talerico wows us, once again, with her new paintings of France, currently on view at Greenwich House Gallery in O’Bryonville.  Her annual trip to France has been generating some of the most energetic and engaging paintings in this region, where she lives.  Talerico manages to be both an Impressionist and an Expressionist at the same time, which is a remarkable feat for a painter.  She gives us a rapid impression of either French street scenes or cafe interiors or exteriors, as if we are running along side her on her way to and from these intriguing venues.  She leads us with her, on her journeys, by creating vertical “slices”, narrowing the format and adding to a nearly vertiginous sense of compressed space and the kind of urban energy we associate with night.  Using a palette strong of bold Mediterranean colors, often outlined in black, the paintings teeter between abstraction and representation: this is a great strength of hers.

The wide swaths of abstraction remind us of her strong integration of Manet, whose work hers often brings to mind.  Manet also radically compressed space, so that a narrow French street seems almost a line amidst blocks of color, which we read as walls, streets, lights, sometimes a banner connecting two sides of a street.  Talerico further radicalizes these spaces, and by allowing oranges and reds and purples and lime greens to dominate her deep purples and blacks, with hints of yellow in the background, she adds a subjective exuberance and an Expressionist emotional wallop to her imagery.  Paris is generally known as the City of Light; Talerico’s urban scenes may or may not be of Paris, but she allows light to dominate, underscoring these multiple meanings and interpretations.

She has a way of foregrounding, for example, the corner of a cafe where it meets an adjoining street, so that the foreground is thrust in your face, as in a Cezanne still life, while forcing our eye backwards in the other half of the vertical slice.  The extreme vertical format adds a sense of both compressed and infinite space, and Talerico excels in her ability to define space in two different ways within one painting, as Manet did as well.

Talerico frequently includes a solitary woman in these paintings; it is difficult not to think of her as a stand in for the artist, and the use of this figure personalizes the journey, the walk through the galleria, the wait at the bar in the cafe.  She asks us to be her companion on these evenings in France, and we long to be with her, both as companion and/or as a kind of voyeur.  This voyeuristic aspect of her paintings is immensely clever: feminist art historians and critics provided one of the most important interventions into art when they saw the extent to which a solitary female in western painting was intended for “the male gaze”.  Talerico inverts and subverts this idea, and provides an empowered single woman who rather enjoys the company of each of us strangers on her journeys.  She, the artist, controls the gaze of the viewer, an astonishing achievement for a contemporary female artist.

Talerico’s new paintings succeed as compositions, as tributes to Manet, as sheerly studies in form, color, and light.  But over and above these successes, her paintings are smart, intelligent, even a little confrontational.  And we can tell what fun she has in painting them.

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