Tuesday, September 8, 2009

REVIEW: Coffee Trees by Cully Renwick at Studio Place Arts (SPA)

By Delia Robinson

Coffee Trees, a collection of fourteen luminous paintings by Cully Renwick, is on exhibit in the 2nd floor gallery at SPA in Barre, Vermont through September 19th. Painted with oil on Yupo paper, the overall effect is one of semitransparent emulsions flowing on a light-filled surface.

This show is a lovely addition to Renwick's dreamily engaging body of work. In addition, it introduced me to the rich potential of Yupo paper. Yupo is synthetic paper, a polymer with a slick, durable, waterproof surface, ideal for interesting aqueous effects.

Inspired by the remains of coffee in the bottom of a cup, Renwick says the dregs resembled “winter trees in a morning sky.” The grounds were “separated by rivulets of water.” She “spent happy days trying to make oil and terp, and stray materials flow in ways that evoked trees, lichens, and winter vegetation.” Though with strong vegetative force, the paintings are not literal images of trees, nor are they purely abstract. Each foray into abstraction is countered by the mind's yearning to classify the images into categories. “This is a landscape,” my mind would say. “This is a grove of trees.” Though I sought to enjoy the pictures as creations without stories, the impulse was too strong; each form demanded that I ascribe “look-alike” attributions.

Each picture is unique though many are reminiscent of rivers from the air, of alluvial fans flowing into deltas. The qualities of coral, or memories of the broccoli-like oak forests of the Marin Headlands, or the curious patterning found in some fungi, or as Renwick says, “winter trees in a morning sky,” occur repeatedly and are more insistent on a second visit. In short, these are strongwilled paintings, taking one on a journey of their own devising.

The techniques Renwick has used are as intriguing as the mysterious selfnaming contents; a bit of frottage, a surface beloved of the surrealists, sits beside flecks and splashes. A sweeping trail of paint suggests a squeegee has been implemented. Seeps of pigment flow over but do not penetrate the surface. The brown pigments are dribbled and pooled, often looking eatable, as if
coffee and chocolate doubled as art materials. In some paintings. mossy green tones allow visionary landscapes to emerge. All offer a sense of enchantment, of glowing space, and an opportunity for reflection.

Images, top to bottom:
Flow Tree, Train, and Companions, all 13 x 13"