BECCA SHEWMAKE: ASSEMBLER CLOUDS
The works of Shewmake collide the unmentionable with the intentional, resemblance with semblance and the graphic with the haptic. Consisting of highly stylized, layered surfaces, Shewmake's paintings are rich in both affect and allusion. Moving between the abstract and the figurative, her anamorphic characters float, merge and simply cohabitate in a manner that creates a sense of psychological unease. These rather precarious pictorial relations are further highlighted through the use of asymmetrical pairings and unequally weighted compositions. The contrast between tension and playfulness in her work develops out of an implied narrative that acts as a place of projection and desire for the viewer.
Working with a scatological vocabulary that celebrates the pitiful, the shabby and the embryonic is what allows for Shewmake's imagery to open onto diverse readings, readings that range from solemn empathy to abstract allegories. Whether seen as modern refuse, postmodern refusal, or contemporary refugees, Shewmake's hybrid figures are often cast in bas-relief from the environments they inhabit. By bringing together varied strategies from color field painting, neo-expressionism and gestural abstraction Shewmake's pictorial vocabulary creates a fusion of effects that range from the clinical to the emotive.
Extending a tradition of cartoon-like figuration beyond the manic images of George Condo or the psychosexual figures of Carroll Dunham, Shewmake's works ask us to consider the possibility of subtler narrative devices. Neither overwrought nor underworked, her pictorial sensibilities move between attraction and repulsion without needing to insist on an aesthetics of the non-descript. Rather, her idoscyncratic imagery emerges from a deft hand and a mood of thoughtful repose. This approach to feeling one's way through the figurative impulse allows the viewer to settle into a space of imaginative conjecture, and ultimately, of active reception.
Whether seen as a commentary on modes and models of painting, or as a visual anthropology of the figurative impetus, Shewmake's work makes us more aware of how it feels to be a subject of expression in an age of subjective compression. Her oeuvre might even be considered to be a form of notetaking, or a catalogue of sorts, about the status of the subject in the age of accelerated capitalism, where a fleeting impression, a minor indication or an affected contour is enough to put us in touch with what remains of the human condition in era that is often 'characterized' as post-human.
From this point of view, Shewmake's paintings could be seen as representing an uneasy form of realism that serves as a timely meditation on the contradictions of figuration's past, present and future. If anything, they are certainly emblematic of thinking about figuration as a verb tense, or even as a dangling participle. The idea of the figure as an intractable event is what makes Shewmake's contribution of special import in field of phenomenal and psychological impressions. As such, Shewmake's work makes more of an impression for not letting its viewers off with a sense of resolve, but rather, for opening up a myriad of questions that might be thought of as visual gestation, or of thinking about figuration itself as the muse of perpetual inquiry.
Bio: Becca Shewmake received her Master of Fine Arts degree from California State University, Long Beach in 2013, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 2005. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the Midwest and California, including the DeVos Art Museum in Marquette, Michigan, The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN, and the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California.