Elizabeth Neel’s Stick Season at the Sculpture Center presents a paradox; it is simple and complex, easy and painstaking. The show consists of six paintings and a series of sculptural collages titled Orienteers. The sculptures are displayed on a table that runs along the periphery of three edges of the square room. The paintings hang behind the table.
The sculptural collages attract attention as the viewer enters the room. The pieces work both as individual units and as one long collage spanning the length of the table. The collage elements are placed in relation to each other, not attached permanently. These elements include found plastic, cut wood boards, a t-shirt dipped in pink ink, plaster, bone and a package of toilet paper with two rolls removed. In spite of the seeming cacophony, the collage elements fit together in perfect harmony. The toilet paper, placed on the end of a neatly stacked pile of wooden boards, balances the white painted turpentine can, placed precariously at the other end, in an elegant composition. Neel seems to have mastered the art of making one’s household/studio objects into art, without recalling the cliché attached to such an attempt.
Neel includes photographs from the Internet in her collages. One wonders if the photographs were added first or last, if they relate directly to the sculptures or if they are placed almost randomly. Much like the rest of Neel’s work, the photographs seem spontaneous, yet they are so elegantly incorporated into the collages that one can only assume that they were perfectly planned.
At first glance, the paintings seem only a backdrop to the sculptures. Behind the sculptures they become subservient to them, but the pieces (sculptures and paintings) speak so well to each other that it would be a shame to separate them. The paintings mirror and mimic the shapes in the sculptures, placing gesture and weight against exactness and flatness. They are elegantly and seemingly painstakingly composed. Every part of the canvas is given attention; the empty space is as strong as the marks.
In and Out, the second painting in the series consists of broad black gestural marks, resembling a wing, vertical painterly marks to the left of the “wing” and a geometric red line running diagonally over the entire painting. The painting consists of only these three elements, yet it gracefully stands, a complete and complex thought, as does the entire show.