Julie Speed @LHUCA
Julie Speed’s exhibition of paintings “Excerpts from the Undertoad” closes at LHUCA this month. Needing little introduction, Speed is the renowned Marfa resident known for surrealist-style paintings crossing genres in scrupulous detail.
While not ‘paintings about painting’ as such, “Excerpts from the Undertoad” falls comfortably within Speed’s larger body of work referencing and effortlessly collecting multiple styles and periods of artmaking into single compositions. “Kunasada’s Ghosts” typifies this, with two figures in the style of the Japanese Edo period’s master printmaker playing on an island painted with a distinctly European style and a Japanese spatial perspective. At the bottom of the composition, apparently underlying all of it is a replica of a print in his style.
The narrative in the painting and even the feeling of it are utterly ambiguous; several successive “what ifs” on the action portrayed are all equally convincing. She allows an active, even theatrical scene to unfold while avoiding any dictation of what that action is. Similarly in “Bear”, a symbolic-looking scene of naked figures dancing around an isolated polar bear unfolds. In the background are trees whose foliage is pre-Renaissance prints of Biblical scenes. Again without dictating the symbols’ antecedents, she ties them together in an oracular scene that manages to be engaging rather than ridiculous.
They are in reality what great throngs of artists attempt unsuccessfully (or at least less-successfully) to do: to create a truly algebraic narrative. Her pieces are in place—they are masterfully laid on the canvas, carefully arranged, and intelligently curated from art history, but they arrange in such a way as to allow multiple, equally valid interpretations. In sum the works give the viewer more they ask in return, creating a rich primordial soup of which we can be the prime mover.
*The author's opinions are his own. Photos courtesy of Madeline Hensler and Ashley Webb.