There is something reassuring about a child’s stick figure. With a circle and a few lines, long and short, it reminds us that we are hard-wired to recognize the human presence. The trouble with a stick figure is that it has no convincing way of inhabiting its world. It takes an artist of Ginnie Gardiner’s brilliance not only to flesh out the figure but also to make it fully present in a particular place. I am tempted to say that in the collage entitled Spectator III, 2014, the artist’s image of herself merges seamlessly with its surroundings. But if this were literally so, she would be lost in the play of form and color. In fact, she is vividly perspicuous: the form around which those of furniture and architecture organize themselves. Throughout this exhibition, we see Gardiner bringing the body into a relationship with its immediate world that is comfortable and ever so slightly unsettled. It is this latter quality that leads us to recognize her form not only as human but as intensely self-aware.
Because Gardiner layers her collage-elements, the images in these works often have palpable edges. The collages are more assertively physical than her paintings, which take an airy impalpability from the light that fills them. And the forms in her collages take on a virtual weightiness in the course of her adjustments and readjustments. In the two collage-studies for Purple Dress, the figure is nearly identical.
The chief differences between these two works are to be found in the stripes of color that signify with elegant economy the figure’s setting. In one study, these stripes run vertically, along the left-hand edge; in the other, they are horizontal and thus echo the upper edge of the collage. In the painting, from 2014, Gardiner opts for the vertical placement and she heightens the stripes’ color key with a salmon pink that heightens, in turn, the purple of the dress. All three variations are successful, with each displaying its own, precisely calibrated degree of spatial expansiveness.
Nearly always, the formal structure—and space itself—is more compact in the collages than in the paintings. The collages, of course, are smaller and yet that is not the entire explanation, for the details of Gardiner’s images acquire a charge of condensed pictorial power from having been developed and refined in the more intimate medium. Transposed to canvas, her images gain not only in size but in scale. They feel larger, more open. Yet they lose none of the intimacy or the intensity bestowed on them by their origins.
Carter Ratcliff is an American art critic, writer and poet. His books on art include “John Singer Sargent”; “Robert Longo”; “The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art”; and “Andy Warhol: Portraits”
Purple Dress, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 inches
Spectator III, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches