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July 28, 2012

War Paint :: Niagara

War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

“So They Got Us Surrounded… The Poor Bastards”
War Paint, Niagara 2012

“War Paint,” the show currently on at Re:View Contemporary Gallery (until 4-Aug) brings the masterful work of Niagara back into Detroit’s limelight. No stranger to limelight, Niagara grasps the essence of narrative presentation. She knows how to make a point, and with the series of paintings that comprise “War Paint,” she does.

War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

“You’re Standing Outside Of You and Telling You What In Hell To To Do” (close up)
War Paint, Niagara 2012

The works on display are big. They carry a big theme, they tell a big story. And they present a cautionary tale, a tale told before, a tale with a moral that seems forever unheeded. No one can say how many times those with the power to commit fellow citizens to war considered it, and then wisely and humbly demurred, but it sure seems like we dive headlong into war far, far too often. With subtle irony, and the grace of a faintly jaded eye, Niagara reminds us that war remains folly. Heroes arrive reluctantly and regretfully, and nearly all those who experience it up close, never wish for it again. War seems to be mostly the product of arrogance, greed, and not least of all a pure testosterone rush on the part of those who do not actually engage in combat, i.e. politicians who talk big.

Niagara brings true courage to her work, not big talk. She paints characters from the drama of World War II, yet all of her characters are women parachuted into combat roles typically played by men — or boys. She inscribes her pictures with slogans and catchphrases of the time, phrases dripping with bluster and bravado. You read them and chuckle — for a second or too. And then you sense the acerbic wit at play, you sense the fear that forms the catalyzing subtext for such bluster. You know from experience that when things like, “If you don’t like to fight, I don’t want you around” are uttered (did Patton say that?), your interlocutor blows smoke. Inevitably, an agenda backs such words, an agenda motivated by anxiety and self-preservation. You can expect the next thing this person will say to be, “Take that hill.”

War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

“Shoot The Works” (close up)
War Paint, Niagara 2012

Make no mistake, I believe there are times for such unabashed bluster: like when you are one of the poor slobs decked out in olive drab, drafted to fight a war started by a bloviating psychopath; started by a deceiving demagogic striver who instead of elevation to an honorable leadership role should have been demoted to janitorial duties in a jailhouse. When you need to find the courage to fight, bluster can be a good thing. And there is such a thing as honor in battle. But the leitmotif here, I think, is that too often the call to battle comes from ambitious cowards devoid of honor who compel others to fight and die filthy, agonizing, anonymous deaths.

That’s my rambling spin on Niagara’s “War Paint.” Look at the paintings and form your own opinions; let the narrative wash over you, and see what you think.

  War Paint, Niagara -- artifizzWar Paint, Niagara -- artifizz  War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

close up
War Paint, Niagara 2012

While you are doing that, stand back from each picture and take it all in, blink your eyes, and do it again. Then, move in close. Move in so your eyes nearly go crossed. Get close. Look at the brushwork. Look at the lines that fall like feathers across the canvas. The shapes they form look as though they grew there, organic. She applies her brush with surgical precision. Some of the forms appear cut and stenciled in place. Look close. You will not find a flaw, a misplaced stroke, a wandering streak of paint. Look at the spatters that land exactly where they should. Look at how she overlays color.

War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

close up
War Paint, Niagara 2012

Now, step back again, and appreciate her choice of color. It seems as though she perceives wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that elude the rest of us. Her choice of color imbues her pictures with a radiant energy that pulls at you, like the ineffable force that draws subatomic particles close to one another, yielding the essential elements of the universe. Somehow, I get the feeling she sees microwaves emanating from cell towers, or navigates guided by Earth’s magnetic field. She sees something the rest of us do not. I would not be surprised to hear that when she steps on to a glorious crowded beach drenched in glittering sunshine, populated by the myriad colors and contrasts of beach umbrellas, skin tones, sand, bathing suits, water — when she steps on that beach she feels breathless for the intensity of it. I would not be surprised if she hears music in the midst of such a clamorous riot of light — sort of an inverse synesthesia, where you see colors when you hear music. Somehow, she pairs colors that feel right, but are by no means obvious brethren. And those color pairings elevate her pictures to another plane where sensibility transcends sense.

Go see these paintings, and if you have the means, buy one. Twice the price would be fair. Niagara’s intellect possesses width and depth, and her works do too (see her reading list if you have doubts). Her works reside in a timeless realm, but they are accessible. They yield meaning and insight to anyone who takes a moment to wonder at them. A child would see something far different from an adult, but no less meaningful. That’s the magic of masterful art, and this is that.

And while you’re there, wander around “See Art + Design” next door. You’ll find a selection of art and design; a deep collection of varied media. Chat with the owner of “Re:View Contemporary” and “See Art + Design,” Simone DeSousa — her experience is extensive, and the insights she shares with visitors illuminate the works in her galleries. Her staff shares her knowledge and appreciation of art, too. Simone and her crew know how to pick and place art. The shows prove it.

War Paint, Niagara -- artifizz

close up
War Paint, Niagara 2012

 

 

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