Nashville Arts Magazine, November, 2017
WORDS Elaine Slayton Akin
Atlanta-based landscape painter Corrine Colarusso describes her art as the opposite of “walking and talking”art, meaning art that is created for a hyper-publicized social event, where you “walk and talk” with your friends. This otherwise fleeting comment would be negligible were it not for the truth that Colarusso’s most concentrated preoccupation as an artist may very well be the romantic notion of personal experience of each singular viewer. Every technical, thematic, and aesthetic selection involved in Colarusso’s practice appears to build toward this noble concept, visually commanding the bygone gallery ritual of a slower pace.
Shaking the Twilight, Colarusso’s exhibition of new work at Gallerie Tangerine running through January 4,2018, is a mixture of her standard 66 x 84-inch acrylics on canvas with smaller paintings and drawings. Colarusso chose the title from a painting of the same name included in the show because the work embodies the quintessential spirit of the artist’s larger message of nature as metaphor. It is the most recent large-scale painting, reflecting the general size and vertical shape of the human body with its arms outstretched. This measurement is just one tool Colarusso uses to hold a viewer in place in front of her work. Shaking the Twilight (2017), like much of the artist’s work, has a drippy quality, the weight of the humidity in the air acquiring physical presence in our mind’s eye much like the waxy yet lifelike fruit and dishware of the Northern European still-life tradition. A spiderweb-like canopy of green shelters a vibrant ecosystem of exotic swamp things from the surrounding gray-blue sky. Intermittent leaves and petals emit specks of red, orange, pink, and purple—evidence of a sinking sun. It is difficult to discern where plant life ends and its reflection begins in the murky water below.
Blue Diamond, 2017, 24 x 18 inches, acrylic on canvas
This work alone confirms much about Colarusso’s background and process. Painting since the age of 16, Colarusso grew up in Boston surrounded by all the cultural and art history you imagine. In the 1980s, Colarusso first visited the Okefenokee Swamp, a protected wetland on the Florida-Georgia state line. “Botanic acid in water is very brown but creates an incredible reflecting pool; as such, what’s above is also below,” recalls the artist. The weepy plant forms of the swamp initially drew Colarusso to the Southern landscape and ultimately sparked the beginning of her richly hued palette and botanic subject matter as we see them today. Over time, the touchstones informing the imagery of Colarusso’s paintings have expanded. Yes, the Spanish moss and oak trees of Georgia play a part, but so do current events, found objects, color samples, and so on. A combination of in-studio and en plein air, Colarusso’s workplace is a veritable collage of stimulants within the artist’s purview. The stylized flowers in Rain and Twilight (2017), for example, are Art Deco-esque in their precision, as if ink stamped. The crest of brownish-yellow silhouettes across the top of the canvas is streaked with white “rain,” appearing as gold foil from a distance. The forms are not so abstracted that they mask time and space, but give us a peek through the looking glass, so to speak, where inches-tall weeds become towering trees. “When it’s out in the world, meaning in art changes for each and every person. We’re all preoccupied by personal events, so we subconsciously associate things,” she continues. “Not to say artists are incapable
of including guideposts to help you gain access to our thoughts. Unlike the more direct spoken word, art offers an avenue by which you get from point A to your own point B, whatever that may be.” This relevance to the capricious nature of human life is a “metaphoric gateway,” per Colarusso, to viewer enlightenment. “Behind every common reed or plant or rock there’s a hinterland. In that way, nature reflects who we are as humans. You lift up one tiny corner of a person, and there’s so much going on within each of us.”
Colarusso shifted her focus to the “daily spectacular” of twilight in the fall of 2015, the twilight of the calendar year. At the end of each workday, when she had run out of energy to paint, she would draw. As the drawings accumulated, she casually referred to them as “the twilights,” a few of which are included in the exhibition along with some new, larger ones. While the drawings are complete works in and of themselves, they also function as facilitators of paintings. Colarusso completed Stack of Twilight in 2016 leading up to the “devastating event of the presidential election,” in her words. “Twilight took on a whole new context for me, a darker presence somehow. ‘Stack of twilight’ equals a stack of things that do not set right.” Although darkness will soon fall in Stack of Twilight, there is a sense that the activity is not quite ready to give up the day. At first glance, nothing is happening, but at the same time, everything is happening. This atmosphere of excitement is the result of Colarusso’s thin-layer strategy, using acrylic paints as if watercolors. “I need to keep the surface fresh and alive until I’m sure. Every layer changes the
composition because it is translucent,”she says. “I add more body and weight in certain areas towards the end. Balance rewards the eye.” Despite the sociopolitical undertones of this and potentially other works, the good news is that darkness may blind us for a short time, but it is a conduit to light in the morning.
Colarusso still returns home to Boston every summer, where she looks forwardto seeing a favorite work of art—Day and Night (2008) by Antonio López García. Two giant bronze baby-head sculptures,flanked by overhanging weeping beech trees, embody the entire arc of life with the subtle shift of one’s eyes open (Day) and the other’s closed (Night). “Life and death, beginning and end, night and day is a core theme throughout the history of visual culture,” says Colarusso. The familiar way we engage with this theme, because it is part of our everyday lives, reminds her of her own work and how the ordinary organisms she paints represent our increasingly desensitized engagement with nature. Colarusso’s macro depictions of the micro world pose a valuable lesson for us. “All comers, come,” says the artist. “Art and nature are available to you. If you give it time and let them unfold, there is information to be gained.”
Shaking the Twilight, Colarusso’s
exhibition of new work, is on view at
Galerie Tangerine through January 4,
2018. For more information, please visit
www.galerietangerine.com. See more of
Colarusso’s art at www.corrinecolarusso.org.