Jane Irish at Locks–Vietnam vs. the good life

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To view this set at your leisure and see the details of the lettering, go to my Flickr set here.

Jane Irish’s exhibit Paintings for Winning Hearts and Minds at Locks Gallery moved me to tears. The paintings, some of them 11 or 12 feet long, are of sumptuous, historical-looking spaces painted atop anguished words–poems and quotations–from the Vietnam War era.

Perhaps I was primed to be affected because I had just the week before had a conversation with Pheoris West and James Dupree about how their high school classmates who weren’t college-bound all died in the war.

Or perhaps it’s the continuing loss of beautiful young men and Iraqi citizens of all stripes, all for a misbegotten cause of an out-of-control president.

The words require peering and finding the shadows of their edges, which are nearly but not wholly overwhelmed by the pictorial splendor. Thus does Irish hold more than one idea in her head all at once–in sharp contrast to he who the Congress mistakenly and blindly obeyed.

I know you’ve read about the beauty and material juiciness of these paintings, which bring to mind Louis XIV and XV, as well as any number of splendid Italian villas with walls and ceilings covered with putti. But the exhibit also includes a number of beautiful ink drawings, some including letterpress embossing of words, some not, as well as a sketch book for juicy, rococo vases from 1995, as well as some of the vases, also disquisitions on material glory and those who do not have it.

On the day I was there, a party was being set up in the room with the paintings, and the contrast between the decorations and the sentiments of the paintings were all the more extreme.

Irish has consistently explored the issues of the worlds we ignore and the worlds we revel in, the worlds we die in and the worlds we live in. The range of her vision unites the genre of history paintings with political protest, plus adds a feminist touch, bringing in and making heroic in scale the daily life of interiors. Whether working large or small, her work stands in contrast to the grand scale of images like Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa or Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People or even the Gettysburg panorama of war and heroism. By doing this, Irish puts the lie to both forms of heroics–the luxurious appointments of the moneyed and empowered classes and the romanticization (is this a word) of war–thereby bringing history down to earth.

This is a must-see exhibit.

Also at Locks, paintings by Elizabeth Osborne. They are self-assured portraits, fully focused on formal issues.

Tags

jane irish, locks gallery, philadelphia art

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