Gelb Gallery: The Perfect Collaborative Balance

Cathy McLaurin and Gayle Caruso collaborate to create conversations between their pieces through juxtaposition and balance. Such is the goal of McLaurin and Caruso’s multi-medium show, Locating the Garden, in which they blend the amorphous animal depictions of McLaurin with Caruso’s silhouettes applied to various mediums. The right panel of the untitled triptych (a painting divided into three sections or three panels) best demonstrates the strength of their collaboration. At the top, a faint, fluid tree, painted in the shade of rusty water, takes foliage from yellowed leaves, flowers, and stems that protrude in three-dimensional, crumpled reality. One of the tree’s extended roots flows into the tail of a slight, silhouetted horse, a vulture in profile perched on its back. From the horse’s leg emerges a shadow, much like a puddle of rusted water, that expands to engulf a polite, hat-tipping silhouette with a printed deer’s head that appears resurrected from a conch-like mummy whose own deer head is now silhouetted. This exchange between Caruso and McLaurin draws on their individual styles to produce a memento that contrasts McLaurin’s juvenile creatures with the classic formality and mystery of Caruso’s silhouettes. Applied to McLaurin’s animals, the silhouettes illuminate the eye of the vulture, a symbol of death and decay, as the tree’s faded root bleeds through this awkward horse shadowed with primal mystery. The horse, mane poking out in odd chunks, appears electrocuted by this current, which passes through its legs to the shadow that the figure stands in. Capped with McLaurin’s innocent, gawky deer head, Caruso’s nonchalant silhouette suddenly appears sinister and disguised, peering too naively over the primitive mummy. Yet as powerful as the right panel shows artistic collaboration to be, the triptych as a whole fails to synergize the talents of Caruso and McLaurin. Though visually they share the background paper, the three pieces do not form a contiguous triptych. The left panel’s openness, accentuated by galloping mules, free-wheeling birth control stencils and tumbling silk clovers appears completely unrelated to the textured focus of the fragile central panel, which appears like a somber religious sacrifice as a faint snake hovers, tongue flickering, over a delicate bird’s corpse, as though commenting on the delicate balance of life that is emphasized by the topmost cloth’s wispy frays and the lace and the petite cross. The arrangement extends past juxtaposition and conversation to meaningless discord, detracting from the individual strengths of the pieces. This artistic dissonance is echoed in McLaurin’s Venice Scraps and Caruso’s Shadows, which are mixed together to cover a wall. Though the intention of the arrangements was to create a conversation between McLaurin’s animal shapes and Caruso’s black shadows, juxtaposing one’s pastel innocence with another’s urbane dynamic, the effect is disjointed. From afar, McLaurin’s Venice Scraps drowns in the stark contrast and definition of Shadows and catches the viewer only as a faded secondary background that appeases the eye until the next silhouette can be found. Instead of reinforcing the silhouettes as wispy, poetic echoes, Caruso’s sketched figures are similarly lost among the vague animals. In this case, the power of just one artist’s work is clear in the upper right hand corner, which is dominated by Caruso’s silhouettes, figures, and inked actions. The strength of Caruso’s experimentation with mediums, shading, and composition becomes clear in this corner of figures, some posed in jaunty contrapposto (a naturalistic human stance where a person’s weight is shifted on one foot), while others are caught in action. Fascinating images, some sharpened into black and printed graphics and others blurring into pastel unity with the background, paint swirling about the faceless figures, highlight a study of movement and the holding of one’s body. McLaurin’s animals, meanwhile, often exhibit limpid, luminous eyes against their light, indifferent pelts that resemble backdrops more than they do warm bodies. Yet this remarkable contrast hints at an undeniable humanity, severity, and perhaps even desperation contained within the infantile blotches and sketches of cuddly creatures. Together, McLaurin’s Venice Scraps can form a haunting wall of soulful eyes peering out from the otherwise soulless, pastel vessels that confine them. Viewing Venice Scraps and Shadows together, it is easy to be distracted by the contrast of the primal and cultured, the amorphous and the delineated, the juxtaposition that the artists attempted. Here is the flaw of the exhibit: in collaborating, their works lose the meaning that Caruso and McLaurin possess as two individuals with different intentions, methods and results. But when working toward the same concept, creating together as they did in Untitled’s right panel, Caruso and McLaurin can shape their distinct styles into art that is evocative and successfully collaborative, though highly idiosyncratic.