Ellsworth Gallery, Santa Fe
August 2 – September 9, 2018
At a preview event for Amie LeGette and Courtney Leonard’s exhibition, guests were lost in a literal twilight zone. Monsoon rains had knocked out the power in downtown Santa Fe, casting Ellsworth Gallery into smooth semi-darkness. The show’s bright palette was momentarily hushed. Lines and forms receded within LeGette’s large-scale oil paintings, and lush gradients sprung forward. Leonard’s series of gridded and pocked ceramics became sharp silhouettes, like shadows that were detached from their objects.
A great cheer rose from the small crowd when the lights flickered back to life. One could almost feel the art objects humming. Perhaps it was the subtle smell of fresh rain—or just-dried pigment—in the room, but it was an unveiling like no other. On a quiet day at Ellsworth, you might ask a gallery employee to replicate the experience for you. Retinal cones get a lot of credit in the art world, but your rods know all sorts of secrets.
Nascent Atmospheres is part of Ellsworth’s new curatorial series, which pairs local, often emerging artists for joint exhibitions. LeGette has exhibited at the gallery once before, in a solo display titled Accumbent Arrays that filled a one-room project space in the back. That show featured diminutive collages and paintings on paper cutouts, some of them arranged under glass on a tabletop. The intimate display fit the subject matter: finger-like forms in pink and gray reached through swirling fields of rust-tinged pigment.
The gallery introduced the Accumbent Arrays works as studies for LeGette’s paintings in Nascent Atmospheres, and the compositional links are immediately evident. The leap from small-scale cutout to large-scale canvas is a protracted, metamorphic process that LeGette handles with impressive control. There are passages with tangible magnetism in the small works—as sprouting forms curl towards each other and nearly touch—that land with yet more impact in the larger compositions. Shadows cast by the edges of the original collage elements transform into trompe-l’œil shading that proves LeGette could cross brushes with James Havard.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s name was murmured more than once at the preview, but LeGette’s true predecessor from the Stieglitz Circle might be Arthur Dove. Like Dove (or early O’Keeffe), LeGette draws inspiration from nature or the human body but dives fully into abstraction, opening emotional universes that invite endless discovery. Another, more unexpected point of reference is Morris Louis, though LeGette often fills central negative space with pools of shifting color. In viewing either artist’s work, the eye remains at once thirsty and quenched.
Leonard’s ceramics, which hail from her expansive Breach series, dot pedestals and a few walls throughout the space. Some are concave nets of coiled earthenware, others are micaceous clay cylinders and pods gridded with small, circular openings. Their colors and textures are striking: the nets are flecked with green, red, orange, and blue glazes, while the micaceous clay works are light brown and speckled with white bubbles from the firing process.
Leonard draws inspiration from traditional Shinnecock fishing baskets as she builds the forms. They are meditations on humanity’s relationship to water—through history and in our current moment—distilled into objects that can’t hold a drop. The fact that the elements freely pass through these non-vessels is key to their ideation. The tools that inspired them work with an unstoppable current to trap gleaming fish, while the art objects themselves capture thoughts about the power and transience of nature.
LeGette and Leonard each make statements deserving of our attention, though the exhibition stumbles a bit by uniting them. The show’s title rings of dashed-off art speak. It’s a vague conceptual umbrella that strains to encompass both bodies of work. Aside from glancing similarities in palette and line, these artists don’t necessarily belong together. Seen as two separate shows—by light or by blackout—each artist makes her mark.