Perspectives and dimensions dissolve, disappearing into the shadows before re-emerging into the picture plane in Alannah Farrell’s highly stylized, emotive “Worlds Without Rooms.” This exhibition, on view at The Painting Center in New York City’s iconic Chelsea neighborhood through April 20, features Farrell’s recent works which shift from allusion to representation and back again.
Portraits of creative juggernauts fill the space. These portrayals are carefully positioned in dialogue with their respective attributes–a coke can, socks, a magazine. These ephemeral images of everyday objects complement the astounding array of portraits featuring poets, artists, and musicians alike. Farrell’s images surge with an ethereal aura reminiscent of Orthodox church icons in shrines or deities adorning the entrances of Hindu temples. Her paintings are installed on walls of a carefully chosen hue, heightening this implicit sense of awe. The exhibit is also accented by an organic-shaped rug floor treatment: Farrell presents her contemporaries on view here in an environment worthy of their creative genius. The artist’s treatment of inanimate objects in her signature precision elevate these mundane objects, taking them out of our everyday experience, re-framing them as sublime allegories. A pair of socks adopts an introspective air, while a can of Coca-Cola marks the absence of its owner.
A thoughtful Western art historical style redux, “World Without Rooms” exudes a cross-generational art historical ethos. Pop Art possesses Giorgio de Chirico’s moody observation of “the world as an enigma.” Farrell, who originally worked in a grisaille method before incorporating limited color in her works, completed her fine art education at Cooper Union in New York City before launching into a career that has resulted in such exhibitions as “Mutual Aid” (2018) at Kent State University’s new William J. and Pearl F. Lemmon Visiting Artist Gallery and “American Architecture in Drawing” (2016) at the King’s College Chapel in London. In her more recent exhibitions, Farrell’s artistic journey through a stylized use of color becomes evident. Her choice of palette is intentional to the point of mannerist. A selective range of hues infuses her paintings with a lingering alienation. Viewers’ eyes are allowed to wander the full length of the painting’s crevices and crescendos until the truths presented within these works become muddled and intractable. Thus Farrell constructs a quandary: how can clean lines and carefully constructed perspectival lines construe such confusion, bordering on disorientation?
Part of Farrell’s success in constructing enigmatic compositions is her ability dictate enough of a narrative to allow viewers to construct the remainder of the story in their imaginations. “I build clues into a story,” remarks Farrell as we stand side by side to contemplate her contemporary nature-morts. These object-portraits consist of stacked publications, faded flowers in a vase with a Coca-Cola can, and a pair of socks carefully arranged alongside a camera. Her qualitative prowess is only matched by her quantitative stealth: Farrell reveals her compositions rely highly on mathematical and geometrical formulae to guide the eye masterfully across the canvas. In this regard, the artist is highly attuned to Old Masters such as Jan Van Eyck, whose “Portrait of a Carthusian” featuring a single bumblebee on a trompe-l’oeil frame in the painting exerts its influence on Farrell’s “LES (Akeem)”.
Farrell’s art historical acumen is rivaled only by the artist’s keen ability to tap into the nuanced identities of her subjects. Portraits on view traipse the range of grayscale and restricted color palettes the artist works within, with “Sanctuary (Magdalena)” indicating Farrell’s earlier exploration of grisaille technique, while later portraits such as “J&B” and “Mulberry Street Sunset (Yuui)” present an angular, color-saturated and precise aesthetic. Moody and ethereal, yet rooted firmly within the artist’s personal experiences navigating the vibrant creative circles of New York City, “Worlds Without Rooms” presents an expanded narrative wherein contemporary cultural figures carve out myths for themselves outside of the rooms and walls that divide our common experience.
“Worlds Without Rooms” is on view through April 20 at the Painting Center, New York, Located at 547 W. 27th Street Suite #500, the gallery is open Tues-Sat, 11 AM – 6 PM.
Audra Lambert is a freelance arts contributor and independent curator based in New York City. Her articles can be found in Whitehot Mag, Art Nerd NY, Artefuse, Examiner and more. The author focuses on participatory and public art projects with an emphasis on emerging and established female artists. She is co-founder of alt_break art fair, a nonprofit art fair fostering dialogue between community-based social justice nonprofits and the arts. Currently completing a Master’s thesis in Modern/Contemporary Art at City College of New York, her curated projects and ongoing coverage of interdisciplinary art projects can be found on ANTE. (www.antecedentprojects.com), an online art platform showcasing contemporary arts and culture, which may or may not be secretly run by llamas on Mars.