April 4, 2003
Nicole Gordon showed nine paintings and three constructions at the Peter Miller Gallery in January and February. The artist begins with scenes from 19th-century French wallpaper, which she intensifies and embellishes to create lively fantasies. We see Saracens sword fighting; ancient cities ablaze; Egyptians lounging among ruins; a sailing vessel in the Arctic with icebergs and polar bears nearby; and little girls in long dresses playing ring-around-the-rosy on a Sunday afternoon in London.
Gordon’s over the top imagery occupies a horizontal strip in the center of each painting. Beneath the horizon, she paints patterns that suggest tiles or bedrock in layers. In the sky we see huge clouds, columns of smoke or abstract patterns. The artist uses lots of impasto and scatters glitter on some paintings. This is the most visually exuberant work that we have seen in a long time.
So far, so good, but Gordon must be “relevant.” Her images are “beautiful and uncomfortable at the same time,” she says. As we enjoy her exotic confections, we must also recall the horrid history of colonialism, savage destruction of traditional cultures and the white man’s burden.
Nothing in Gordon’s paintings justifies this politically fashionable interpretation. These are wallpaper scenes, after all, not documentaries of misery and persecution. They work visually. The artist should be satisfied with that.