Each of us had a unique reaction to the months we spent in lockdown, and this is as true of artists as of everyone. Body, psyche and soul, our experiences have been as individual as we are — and painter Yvette Gellis is no exception. Where some artists grew quiet and personal in their ideas and practices, Gellis contemplated the entire web of nature. Where some became reserved or pared down in their materials, she lavished pigment in rich impasto almost to the point of decadence. Where some took up shadowy, nuanced palettes speaking to loss, melancholy or pensiveness, she expanded into an exuberant technicolor rainbow spectrum singing the song of nature’s material and spiritual grandeur.
A large number of artists turned or returned to the figure, as though the lack of people in their rooms could be made up for by putting them in their canvases. Gellis did do that, although she stopped significantly short of portraiture — because for her it was less about seeing actual people and more about contemplating humanity as a whole. In characterizing this period in her studio, and in the context of being known as a primarily abstract visual artist whose mixed media paintings and sculptural installations engage imagery within architectural rather than portrait-based modalities, Gellis has said that her thoughts took an epiphanic path toward a vision of how “people, plants, animals, the water and the air — all of it is connected in nature.”
Ironically, or perhaps most understandably of all, the experience of isolation prompted Gellis to explore the ways in which we are all connected — to each other and to the whole of the world. The results, on view in a Rogue Wave project of L.A. Louver gallery in Venice, are not so much illustrations of this interdependent existence as they are enacted embodiments of it. Her palette is assertive and possesses the radiant luminosity of day-glow pigments, teetering on the edge of artificiality but staying just on the side of a verdantly botanical tropical wonderland. Fuschia, orange cream, lavender, mint, sienna, violet, ochre, emerald, deep cream and royal blue are slathered and scored, applied in an actionist gestural urgency that flickers between flora and figure at every moment.
The physicality of the paint itself speaks to the solidity of the world of people and places, even as its primordial looseness threatens to remain as abstract as pure energy. The large scale creates an affinity of the life-size almost-body, even as it creates a sense of fenestration that might be a portal through which the spiritual if not the corporeal perception might pass. Hints of her favorite architectural motif — the parquet flooring — tether several of the compositions to both her previous interests and to the external world, and orient her dissolute beings in a familiar version of pictorial space. In the end, the impossibility of discerning where the human body stops and the lushness of nature beings is exactly the point. During her time alone with her thoughts, it seems Gellis never felt so connected to her world.
Verdure is on view by appointment until October 16 at L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice; lalouver.com.
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