In her first solo show at Kerry Schuss, the Canadian-born, New York-based painter Jane Corrigan (b. 1980) exhibited eight oil-on-linen works (all 2014) that depict women of indeterminate ages wearing sporty clothing, such as track jackets, gym shorts or simple summer outfits. Six of the paintings feature single figures, presenting the subjects, for example, in a heroic stance, in repose or (in two cases) seated following a fall. The paintings have a fast and loose quality that effectively mirrors both the rigorous joy of athletics and softer, sensate experiences like kissing, drinking and being in an open field.
In Hurt (red yellow blue) and Hurt Girl (red), blood from a wounded knee is rendered with a bright red blob, the artist exploiting the mimetic aspect of oil paint and evoking the shock of unexpected pain. In Milk, a woman in cut-off shorts and a white blouse raises a glass milk bottle to her mouth with both hands and energetically drinks. Her yellow hair blows back, interlocking with a dark olive-green mass that moves into planes of mint green, brown and gray to make up a view of a country field, with a road and two white houses in the distance. Kiss presents two women holding hands and joined at the lips, their elongated features merging into one roiling organic form. The energy here is similar to the woman’s “kiss” of the milk bottle, a private sensuality powerfully expressed by the swirls of entwined paint.
This show was a departure for Corrigan in terms of scale and subject matter. At New York’s White Columns, in 2012, she exhibited smaller paintings (all approximately 20 by 22 inches) of men with bulbous facial features and proportions that recalled a primitive Walt Disney style. The figures were engaged in activities such as painting outdoors, smoking, cooking and socializing around a fire. Her new jump in scale (the largest work here is 47 by 31 inches) gives her people a greater range of personality, and also changes the viewer’s relationship to the landscape; we can now inhabit the space instead of beholding it like a miniature tableau.
Corrigan’s alla prima (wet-into-wet) method requires timing, framing and physical stamina to all be in alignment for the paintings to emerge. There is a keen sense of theatricality, and a faith in the materiality of paint to speak for itself, as opposed to a view of paint as a tool for illustration. Her blunt realization of the body in a somewhat abstract space calls to mind artists as diverse as the 1950s Bay Area painter David Park, Icelandic painter Louisa Matthíasdóttir and New York-based Judith Linhares.
Corrigan’s paintings conjure a more pastoral time, with a rose-tinted sheen to faces and landscapes, and a subtle 1970s style to clothing and sneakers. However, her women escape the trap of sweetness, their anatomical proportions slightly off. In four small oil-on-paper works and an oil-on-linen painting in the back room, bodily pain was a palpable presence. The results were uncanny, as if Goya’s torture victims had been crossed with Betty and Veronica from Archie comics.
Willem de Kooning’s famous quote “flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” a paean to male desire embodied in the painted feminine form, has been reinterpreted in Corrigan’s energetically painted female figures, which are sensually conjoined to their landscapes. The women possess a subjectivity wholly their own, yet are intimately connected to that of their maker.