Caitlin G. McCollom: The Artist is Present
Caitlin G. McCollom lays it all out in Blood and White, her solo exhibition at Pump Project on Austin's east-side. These modest- and large-scale mixed-media paintings on synthetic paper — described by the artist as “indirect abstractions...represent[ing] the quiet panic of the disordered mind and the beautiful decay of the diseased body” — are the result of both six months of sheer studio work and a more complicated cocktail of interstate relocation and return, illness, temporary art-making hiatus, and a subsequent wellspring of creative energy. — Brian Fee, ever-traveling contributor
Thirteen roughly palm-sized compositions, each a mix of acrylic, gel medium, ink and more daubed, smeared, or poured onto featureless sheets of YUPO, line gallery walls along with four larger, newer paintings created with similar materials. The smaller works are protected within deep shadow-boxes — displayed, in the artist's words, “like specimens” — and represent the edit from a much larger body of work (and “body” is the opportune word here) that McCollom began in November. As she worked on several paintings at a time, layering, wiping, and redoing swipe by swipe, end results vary wildly: from the gesturally liquidic Sweetness (glistening like an open wound, never to dry completely) to the taut and screaming Cuts, a gnarly blossom of reds that conveys all the inner torment and vulnerability of a Louise Bourgeois fabric figure. That seminal late artist may be known the world over for her gigantic, menacing spiders, but Bourgeois' intimate sewn sculptures, stitched together from salvaged textiles from her childhood onward, are potent works themselves: acting as therapeutic exercises in embracing the past and conquering it. That sentiment, opening up for the world (and the artist herself) to see, and then moving on from there, is prescient in Blood and White.
McCollom commissioned local poet Stephanie Goehring to write a text as access point to and poetic inspiration of Blood and White, and Goehring's prose block, hanging at the entryway to the show and echoing the exhibition title, contributes perhaps further insight to McCollom's thought process when beginning (and navigating through) this body of work. To quote the central portion: “Your body is a jar that houses a brain flooded pink by blood vessels. Our bodies are nothing without our white brains. You still have to eat breakfast.”
As expected, some of the subject matter — abstract though they may be (as I wrote earlier, end results vary in execution) — is not beautiful. Though realistically, these bodily snapshots are precisely as they should be: emblematic of the wet, gooey, frail, and ultimately living body. Whereas some, like Blood Core and its leaf print-like heart, are too on the nose in representation, the more organic (no pun) compositions elicit deeper impressions— Blood Pool's soft-shaped reddish “amulet”, the graceful Ovum, and the standout Blood Throne, which despite its heartlike focus matches the watery blossom with an eruption of impasto'd bone-white streaks, cradling the delicate organ within its aforementioned “throne”. On terms of sheer technical prowess, Blood Throne and neighbor Holy Red (the newest work on view and, in McCollom's words, the “truest red”, a color she has experimented with in the past but never so bloodily, bodily red as here) win: for the former's pairing of deliquescent red and heavy beige-white and the latter's deep gestural depiction of the gastrointestinal tract, its ridges shining black-blood red and its pathway bearing vestiges of the artist's controlled brushstroke.
An important point: McCollom's earlier work focused specifically on — and I quote from her, as the theoretics are already over my head — “exploration of absence and presence in juxtaposition with the solipsistic experience and the physical body”, from shimmering white-on-white (safflower oil, varnish, etc) hanging paintings (The Lustration, Big Medium, Austin, 2012) to the artist donning a white zentai suit in an otherwise empty gallery (The Untitled, Co-Lab, Austin, 2011), separated from viewers and the outside world by millimeters of Spandex yet still ostensibly dissolving into the space. Blood and White affords McCollom no such avenue for distancing herself: these red, white, and beige works are corporeal and, thanks to the YUPO's plasticity, incredibly sticky. They are as tactile and physical as her earlier practice was ethereal and intangible. Confrontation lies in their materiality, both for us the viewers (these paintings run the gamut from beautiful and rose petal-like to disquietingly “intestinal”) and for McCollom herself. To take her earlier theses on solipsism and recontextualize them within the guts of universal fragile humanity is a breakthrough for the artist and a compelling harbinger of her continued creative maturation.
Caitlin G. McCollom is an artist, critic, and independent curator based in Austin, TX. She graduated from Texas State University in 2010 with a Bachelor's of Fine Art in studio art painting with a focus on art history and honors studies. McCollom opened the apartment-gallery Red Space in January 2011 and curated 20 exhibitions there through December 2013, plus she writes for various local and statewide arts publications. Her work was published in Les Femmes Folles, a national anthology of women artists curated by Sally Deskins. Blood and White is her second solo exhibition with Pump Project and her first in its main gallery space, and the exhibition continues through May 9.
Stephanie Goehring is co-author, with Jeff Griffin, of the poetry chapbook I Miss You Very Much (Slim Press Holdings, 2011) and author of the poetry chapbook This Room Has a Ghost (dancing girl press, 2010). She lives in Austin, TX.