December 5, 2020 – January 16, 2021
Meg Lipke’s work first came to my attention in 2014 at a show in Bushwick’s erstwhile Parallel Space, in which she presented hybrid works that combine drawing, painting, and relief in quirky color schemes. This earlier work was influenced as much by the art historical precedent provided by figures like Richard Tuttle and Eva Hesse, for instance, as it was by Lipke’s familial connection to textiles and crafted patterns—her maternal grandfather’s family ran a woolen mill in Manchester, England. The artist’s grandmother, Patricia Sinclair Hall, and mother, Catherine Hall, would use aspects of textile fabrication in their own artworks. In Lipke’s current show at Broadway Gallery, she has returned, in a big way, to those inherited roots of the manipulated craft object, arriving now at her primary support: canvas fabric filled with polyester fiber. She still, however, thinks of herself as a painter, a point of view that instills these newest works with a myriad of painterly tropes.1
The sculptural presence of these new works is carefully modulated by the wide vocabulary of glyph-like gestures that Lipke paints in colors that evoke, by turns, both the folkloric and psychedelic. Big Pink (2020) is one of the largest works in the show: a stitched and stuffed form stretched across the left front wall of the gallery, like some gargantuan pet toy just touching the floor with it’s surplus weight. It’s unabashedly antic, an asymmetric and pneumatically realized quasi-grid form covered with allover expressionist patterns in hot pink and acid yellow. Tightly packed with polyester filling, this paint-thing pushes out into the gallery space as if straining against being hung on the wall. One slumping section of the tubular grid form is additionally painted in black scripture as if to offer the viewer a tattooed “arm.” The overall format presents like a sentient body, but one splayed in an abstract array like some sci-fi hybrid made manifest in monstrous, recombinant form. Despite this, the whole experience of the piece is more playfully exuberant than anxiously foreboding, which is probably due to its punk-pop palette. Its pink, yellow, and black markings are reminiscent of Keith Haring’s invented hieroglyphs but also the organic, spear-like forms of Lee Krasner’s later paintings. These varied gestures serve to activate the surfaces of the work, a particulate counterpoint to the work’s generally monumental effect.
Directly across from Big Pink, two smaller-scale pieces offer variations on the formal themes established by the larger work. Origin (2020) is more symmetric, and perhaps more symbolically referential. It looks as if it could have been meticulously created by a devotee of peyote for their own version of a sacred rite of inner vision: a central eye shape dominates a composition painted in neon blues, greens, violets, and oranges. The artist’s gestural vocabulary here trends toward broad pictograms rather than the asemic writing prevalent in many other works in the show. Because of its smaller size, Origin seems to have more of a portable fetish function than the larger works in the show. An unavoidable subtext to Lipke’s approach to painting is her questioning of how far art-making might function as a fetishized ritual, and to what extent pattern and decoration combined with quirky sculptural form can avoid such slips into offhand incantation.
To the left of Origin is the slightly larger and more asymmetric Untitled (Teddy) (2020). This work is painted in a subdued palette of blues and oranges, interspersed with violet and green, creating a calmer energy than Origin. One can discern echoes of Elizabeth Murray’s cartoonographs in Lipke’s gestures here. Like Murray, Lipke’s forms evolve and propagate organically, easily melding into an energetically friendly array of related forms. As in the much larger Big Pink, there is something toy-like about this work, as if to relieve the viewer of being too harshly interrogated by the work’s abstract form. “Consider playing with your aesthetic presumptions,” Lipke seems to suggest. Far from being obsequious, this mode of address constitutes one of the most subversive aspects of the show, as good humor can disarm the world-weary critic at large in us all.
In the back room of the gallery one encounters two large works, For Now (2020) and Black and White Vibrations (2020). As in Big Pink, a viewer is almost overwhelmed by aggressive scale and, simultaneously, meticulously tickled by an expressive lexicon of scriptural gesture. For Now consists of a sagging, ladder-like structure of brightly colored shapes that swing between Matisse’s aquatic cut-outs and ancient petroglyph stick figures. The sculptural morphology of this particular work reminded me of the hand-made “draft logs” found throughout New England (the artist did grow up primarily in Vermont), typically lodged against thresholds to block the long winter’s chill.
Black and White Vibrations turns a ladder form on its side and animates its central forms in a progressive, wiggling dance that recalls Jackson Pollock’s painting Mural (1943). Its slouching posture, though, is much less strident than the Pollock, and that slower tempo conditions a more relaxed version of abstract, frieze-like figuration. What fascinates about this work is its impressive vertical bulk, kept in tension by its slumped posture. Taking it in, I was reminded of a cartoon sequence of a comically pompous figure hoping to impress a potential mate by puffing up their chest (and sucking in their gut) as the object of desire approached, only to slump back into belly posture as they were passed by. As seen in previous works here, the ostensibly playful can simultaneously provide critical subversion and a return to richly nuanced humanity. The somatic analogies proposed by Lipke’s work smartly reimagine off-the-wall, painting for the people.
In an informal discussion with the artist at the gallery she mentioned to me that she still thought of the works as paintings.