Image 2. “Just as the used palettes evidence activity of paint-mixing that I hardly remember, my paintings are evidence of a time I barely remember,” writes Gullow.
who: Ursula Gullow
where: PUSH Gallery and Skateshop, 25 Patton Ave.
when: Show is up through Jan. 8 (ursulagullow.com and pushtoyproject.com)
Ursula Gullow’s new show at PUSH re-imagines recollection
Your childhood was undoubtedly captured on film. Aged and faded photographs taken by a brick-sized 35-millimeter camera may even be lying in albums stacked on your or your parents’ bookshelves. It’s these moments and memories that Asheville painter (and Xpress writer) Ursula Gullow has latched onto lately. She has taken such antiquated childhood stills and turned them into fodder for Kin, a solo exhibition of new paintings at Push Gallery.
Kin is a glimpse into Gullow’s childhood, particularly from a period that she doesn’t remember — at all. While there’s ample photographic documentation, Gullow was simply too young to accurately recall the information.
The photographs are solid proof that she was there, but that doesn’t mean they elicit a direct memory. Rather, the memory is of the photo, not the situation. Gullow’s response is to re-imagine the memory. She’s done so by painting the photographs of such unknown childhood moments, creating new documents and newer memories.
Kin is Gullow’s first completely solo exhibition in years. Despite showing work in and throughout town since moving here from Seattle in 2002, this is the first time in nearly a decade that the artist has created an all-new body of work specifically for a solo exhibition. The oil paintings range from 12-by-12-inch portraits to figure-filled landscapes more than 60 inches in size.
The show features subjects and images that could have been excised from Anywhere, America in the 1970s. There’s a boy holding one end of a tin can with a string in “Phone Call.” A painting of children at a corn maze lies across the room from “Monkey Bars,” an image of two girls hanging upside down from the metal playground fixture. And beside that is “Playroom Portrait,” one of the few paintings that reveals the artist among her five siblings. Gullow is the youngest.
Each painting reflects the era, emanating the time in some form or vintage fashion. “Train Set” offers a direct view of the period through the home furnishings. Floral curtains of red, pink and pale orange hang on either side of white-lace curtains that cloak the window. In front of them is an equally overactive couch with ‘70s patterning.
For this exhibition Gullow began incorporating graphite into the works. These areas are largely transparent. In comparison to her usual painterly brushstrokes and rich colors, they come off as lightly developed. She’s illustrated the lace curtains from “Train Set” with graphite, rather than oil paint. Their transparency contains and isolates the harshness of mid-morning sunlight attempting to come through the window. But it’s dulled down by the warmer colors of the room and the green grass of an entire miniature railroad town.
In several paintings there is little physical evidence of the times — no dated clothing, products or furnishings. It would seem, though, that Gullow has painted the aged nature of the photograph by flattening the intensity of the colors. In “County Fair” her siblings are on a ride, one of those C-shaped orbs with benches that spin in circles. The scenery is seemingly modern, but the colors clearly resemble those of a faded photograph.
Most of the images appear to be from photos captured by an adult’s hand. They come off as posed or orchestrated, insinuating that a parent is on the other side asking the kids to “look this way.” But in “Kitchen Floor,” it looks as though a child may have gotten a hold of the camera. This low-angle shot of a Fisher Price car is set in front of a dull, gray-tiled floor. It’s the sole focus on the toy that lends to the idea of a spur-of-the-moment picture taken by a possibly fascinated child.
Gullow’s final means of comparing the document to the memory is seen in “Palette Quilt.” She’s taped together dozens of the palettes used to paint this show, and hung them together from the ceiling. They result in an 8-by-5-foot rectangular mass that resembles a quilt, but more importantly provides a document of her work. We see the evidence of hours of mixing and blending the colors that formulate each image. But alas, the palettes themselves are a mere subconscious effort, an accidentally artistic by-product.
It would seem that Gullow has chosen these images for their ubiquitous content. These scenes are typical, perhaps so typical that you personally have the very same photographs. But that’s supposing you haven’t hung upside-down on monkey bars, made a can-and-string phone and sat for any number of family portraits. Gullow’s own question persists: Are the moments remembered, or the documents?
Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Xpress and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.