Becky Kolsrud: Elegies — at JTT, NEW YORK

Becky Kolsrud
191 Chrystie Street, Unit 2F
New York 10002
January 30 – March 13, 2021
All images copyright and courtesy of the artist(s) and JTT, New York

“The Pool”
By H.D.

Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?

JTT announces Elegies, the gallery’s fourth solo show with LA based painter Becky Kolsrud. On view are twelve paintings that feature flattened female figures and opaque landscapes with glowing horizons. One piece titled Three Graces includes an installation of sixty Hydrocal plaster feet scattered on the floor beneath a painting of the three Charites in a dark blue abyss. These newest works look to the abstraction of Georgia O’Keeffe, the interiority of Félix Vallotton, the austere poetry of H.D., and the collective isolation and reflection on mortality brought by the global pandemic.

In Dryad (Cypress), 2020, a cypress tree stands with two bare human legs. A straight horizon cuts across the center of the composition parting a pale pink sky from a verdant green landscape. Evenly shaped and distanced clouds are mirrored by dark green circles along the ground. This work calls to mind Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds series from the 1960s, where O’Keeffe depicts a spread of clouds against a pale pink light with a deliberate and measured simplicity. O’Keeffe began this series after her husband Alfred Stieglitz passed away and she decided to travel by air for the first time. The solitary reflection of peering through an airplane window magnified by grief is contained within O’Keeffe’s soft white ovals. In Dryad (Cypress), 2020, Kolsrud’s plucks O’Keeffe’s clouds and with it her grief and solitude.

Inscape (Dryad), 2021, features another tree, this one round with soft curling leaves standing with pale blue legs on a dark brooding green that contrasts the light yellows of the foliage above. Behind the figure is a thin lake and a purple mountain painted with bold hard edges where the water, earth and pink vibrant sky meet. As the title implies this is not a portrait of a figure in nature, but instead a deep interiority where the blue of the water and the shadow of the grass tells us more about solitude and melancholy than posture or expression. Here Kolsrud looks to the Swiss painter Félix Vallotton, who in the late 19th century was a part of a group of artists who brought the transition from impression to abstraction and symbolism known as Les Nabis. Inscape (Dryad), 2021, like Vallotton’s seascapes, emphasizes the profoundness of emotion through color. Indeed there is almost an ethos in Elegies that profundity comes through reflecting on a most economical recounting of a foot, a skull, a tree, the water, the sky.

In the largest painting in Elegies, titled The Chorus, 2021, a seascape is spotted with large smooth rocks. On each of them perch the same cypress creature that is found in Dryad (Cypress), 2020, and Inscape (Dryad), 2021. For the most part every cypress figure has their own small stone island but with a few exceptions two and three figures cluster together. In The Chorus, 2021, the solitude is now collective. The figures are separated by a rolling sea, but are still in communion with one another. In the center of the composition is a boat with a figure laying inside like an open casket. The water is not rendered in details of waves or ripples but instead in concentric circles of light and dark blues that have a uniformity across the composition. Above is a pale pink and purple sky with a yellow glowing horizon that mourns the figure in the boat not unlike O’Keeffe’s clouds that mourn Stieglitz.

In classical antiquity the cypress was a symbol of mourning as it failed to regenerate when pruned too severely. Within Greek mythology, the story of Cyparissus explains the Greek and Roman tradition of fumigating funerals with burning cypress branches or planting cypress trees beside gravesites. In Ovid’s version of the myth, a boy by the name of Cyparissus accidentally killed his own beloved stag while hunting. Cyparissus is so grief-stricken that he asks Apollo to let his tears fall forever. Apollo, who loved Cyparissus deeply, agrees to grant his wish as an act of devotion and turns the young boy into a tree whose sap forms droplets that cascade down its trunk. The myth is imbued with mourning, Cyparissus is bereft of his stag, but Apollo must also grieve the loss of Cyparissus. All of the work in Elegies was made in the accustomed solitude of the artist’s studio. However, this past year has brought new meaning to solitude and collective solitude, as well as new experiences of grief and collective mourning.