Miguel Abreu Gallery’s first post-COVID quarantine exhibition pits painting versus photography. Brooklyn-based photographer Eileen Quinlan captures the nightmare of being marooned in isolation while Cheyney Thompson’s stenciled paintings complement the same sensibility by approximating the waves imprinted on driftwood. Quinlan’s snapshot of a wilderness glade, entitled Curtain Call, contemplates death and regeneration with an austere aesthetic vocabulary that is iterated with innovative variation in her other works. The solitary figure of a wildflower growing from a cement road, Isle of Calypso is particularly luminous. Named after the mythical island where Odysseus was stranded, it articulates a kind of resilience nourished by New York’s claustrophobic cityscape. Given the conceptual weight of the photographs, Cheyney Thompson’s efforts pale in comparison. Seen together they are bewildering. Seen apart, both artists generate epiphanies: heaven in a wildflower, the landscape of a monochromatic dream. In Quinlan’s Wendell’s Eden, a winter scene, the sunlight peeking through the trees is symbolic of liberation. Nature, according to Quinlan, is in itself a form: “You cannot reinvent its shape.” Unlike the architectonic grid of Thompson’s images, Quinlan’s creativity is instinctive. Less technique or process, Thompson’s work is more about finding building blocks in the slate of a hill, in the muddy sand between ebb and flow, in the lichened trunk on the river or in the blocks of the peat quarry. There are several kinds of time in her photos: a twenty-day bloom or the second of a snapshot, unembellished except by practical determinations. Her small close-up of a doubly-exposed bark printed on fiber paper veers towards Rothkoesque abstraction. Next to this is the only color piece in the set: a faded image of foliage against the sky. By contrast, Thompson’s floating forms produce illusions of three-dimensionality in the emerging contours of a bird in flight. Optically captivating, but a little too gimmicky. The exhibition is at its best when it is directly intuitive, like in the way it concludes with Quinlan’s outcome of an interrupted picture, of an old Polaroid film failing to get a proper exposure. What appears instead resembles a sand dune and a desert mirage.
Eileen Quinlan and Cheyney Thompson’s exhibition Displacements and Dead Trees runs from 10th of September to 17th of October 2020 at Miguel Abreu Gallery, 36 Orchard Street.