The following is a visual arts review by critic Matthew Bourbon, an artist and associate professor in the College of Visual Arts and Design at UNT. It airs today on KERA’s All Things Considered.
Raychael Stine’s first solo exhibition, at Road Agent Gallery in Dallas, is playful and humorous. Stine offers a series of paintings that depict a wide range of brushy and wavy lines. As animated patterns and textures emerge, realistically painted animals take center stage. Using the animals as protagonists within her art, Stine populates her paintings with dachshund dogs, wayward rats and an occasional weasel. Each animal stands, sits or floats among the painted swirls as if they were interlopers in what otherwise looks like an artificial landscape. In Stine’s most ambitious painting, The Boring of Holes, she portrays four dogs digging into a monochrome expanse of paint that seems not unlike the flatness of snow or desert.
Among the dogs are mice outlined in a cartoon white barrier. An ominous sky with fuzzy looking clouds rises above the world weary animals threatening their relationship to the environment in which they exist. In this, and all the paintings in the exhibition, the artist carefully fuses the descriptive style of portraying animals with an array of wistful abstract markings. These moments of abstraction feel nearly separate from the animals, while mysteriously remaining physically linked to the action taking place within the pictures.
Stine’s approach of using different pictorial techniques within one sphere of painting is not unusual in contemporary art. In fact, working against expectations by offering a fresh perspective on familiar painting styles is a common tactic in today’s art world. What really makes Stine’s work memorable, however, is the manner in which she makes the animals appear equally ridiculous and sympathetic. Looking into painted puppy dog eyes can be cloyingly sweet, but it can also, to the artist’s credit, implore the viewer to recognize a kind of buried humanity among the fabricated gamesmanship of her art. Even the rats evoke a bit of empathy-for the delicately painted creatures seem persistently choked and battered by the claustrophobic trails of paint within Stine’s canvases. Among all this whimsy and contradictory pathos, Stine seems to be using these forlorn animals, as shadow characters for our own human weakness and endurance. In the end, the artist is allowing us to identify with her painted menagerie, suggesting that we all sometimes feel like ill-shapen dogs, trod-upon rats and perhaps even sometimes-conniving weasels.
You can listen to Matthew’s audio review here: