Continuing through August 21, 2016
After a much lauded run at the New Museum in New York, Barbara Rossi’s “Poor Traits” brings the work of this Chicago artist back home in her first solo exhibition in the city in 25 years. As a member of the Chicago Imagists group (active in the 1960s and 70s) and an influential teacher for decades at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rossi has had a profound impact on generations of artists who have lived or been schooled in the city. This exhibition of early paintings and drawings highlights Rossi’s unique practice of filtering vernacular visual language through an imaginative and intuitive creative process.
In these early paintings, Rossi applied impossibly even, flat layers of acrylic paint upon the backs of Plexiglas sheets, layering the sheets upon one another and backgrounds of fabric. Without a single visible brushstroke, the only tonal variations come from blankets of perfect, tiny dots of paint on the Plexiglas that cast the slightest shadows upon the ground behind them. While Rossi’s hand illustrates the epitome of control, her compositions of bulbous, undulating bodily shapes are indicative of the unhindered approach of her compositions.
Accompanying Rossi’s paintings are a selection of drawings that more plainly reveal the surrealist influences behind her imagery. As in her paintings, these works bear a vague semblance to a bust-like portrait orientation, though the artist freely riffs on the human features: the fingers of a hand are also a staircase leading nowhere; a shock of hair becomes a pulsating amoeba; lips are parted to reveal puffy clouds where teeth should be. These drawings are light and airy, and also unnerving as they combine the familiar with the fantastical.