Emily Gherard makes paintings and drawings of things that emphasize the special shallowness of two-dimensional space. She loves to conjure these almost-flat stages on the surfaces of paper or canvas, where there is only imaginary air and a limited amount of room, where there is "weird flatness, weird unreality," as she calls it.
Whatever happens here happens in your eye-brain, when color, shading, and shape interact to entrance you into reading a picture where there are only marks. Most often, Gherard uses subjects that might otherwise block seeing past a shallow depth of field: walls and large rocks. In a contemporary art world awash with ideas about social engagement, this quietly emergent Seattle artist's relatively esoteric pictures are reengagements with old-fashioned visuality, fresh workouts of forgotten muscles.
This month, Gherard has eight graphite drawings at Francine Seders Gallery. She has three paintings at Cornish College of the Arts (she's a finalist for this year's Neddy at Cornish award). She's shown at Francine Seders since 2008; in 2004, she got her MFA from the University of Washington after earning a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design in 2002.
Her largest painting at Cornish is completely, mesmerizingly queer, a scaly thing, untitled, dated 2013, measuring 80 inches high by 60 inches wide. It is the kind of painting an entire book could be written about. Something big and dark is looming in the lower right of the picture like a rock, but it's not solid; dark halos radiate from its edges. It tilts forward. It feels like suddenly coming upon a leaning old tombstone in a blizzard.
The surface texture is a thick grid: a wall of bricks. But these bricks are smooth and shiny, sanded down, with iridescent swirls in the places most sanded down. So many layers of scaly, living wall.
The last way to look is from the side. The sides are red! This big untitled thing on the wall is bloody in the middle, like meat, or maybe it was burned and now it's charred, like wood that could break to ash at any point. Whatever this is, it is completely imaginary and keeps morphing.
Near the exit of the gallery, Gherard is talking in a video. She's youthful, freckled, and sweet, not serious, tombstoney, and monumental. It sounds like she is as taken in by her weird unrealities as anyone else can be. She says she stops making them when they don't want anything from her anymore, which makes her sad. Then she'll look at them, finished, and ask herself, "I did that? Why did I do that? It doesn't look like something I would do."