Elizabeth Glaessner’s Dreamy Figurative Paintings Evoke Primordial Life
The air is thick, you’re drifting through a hazy, uncertain world, and visibility is not on your side. Obscure humanlike figures move intentionally slow through abstract pools of color and light. You make out a hand, a fingernail, a toe, but the rest is unclear. Impossibly long limbs wrap you in a warm embrace, and you feel, perhaps for the first time, safe. There are no power structures, no capitalism, no gender, just primitive reflections of emotional states. As you saunter through psychological landscapes, these spirits guide you, divorce you from your mortality, and regenerate you in their making—one free of humanity, of guilt, and most of all, free of pain.
Elizabeth Glaessner is the architect of this beguiling utopia and explores these dreamlike worlds and more in her current solo show “Phantom Tail,” on view through March 19th at P.P.O.W. Through emotional characters and historical nods, Glaessner implores us to examine our roots, to look closer at our genesis: nature. The modern world dissolves our connection to nature, strips us of our animal instincts, and estranges us from the organic origins of our progenitors. “Phantom Tail” and its fluid hosts summon us back—back into a place unaffected by modernity, a world where existence is untethered by the cultural baggage of our predecessors, endeavoring to reconnect us to the earliest, primordial versions of ourselves.
A company of psychological characters sprawls and stretches to every edge of Glaessner’s canvases. Their appendages bulge and contort implausibly, presenting more alien than human at times. Uncanny to the core, their parts feel familiar but strange, allowing for viewers’ associations to promulgate. Giantly rendered and densely composed, Glaessner’s stained figures are soft and supple with few defining moments to designate their bodies as one thing from another. Fluid and amorphous attributes only further their intention of being distinctly indistinct.
Glaessner’s method of layering paint atop poured pigments exaggerates the blurred effect and allows for improvisation to take the lead. Fauvist color palettes are tinged with saccharine, sickly neons, provoking an energy of chaos and calm all at once. Sharp highlights outline crucial elements, while lagoonish greens and misty blues are contrasted by brilliant pangs of bright oranges and acid pinks. The result is overly saturated, invigorating, and incredibly seductive.
While the narratives of these glowing sexless subjects remain opaque, symbols of art history litter Glaessner’s canvases with import and reverence. The exhibition title “Phantom Tail” refers to the prehistoric tail of our ancestors’ origins and of the various tailed creatures, such as sphinxes and manticores, from a myriad of cultural fables. In Pressure Chamber (2021), one is reminded of Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781). In other works, repetitive figures are birthed in a chain of smaller and smaller versions from a central body, reminiscent of depictions of the Greek myth of Cronus and his fated offspring. Just as past cultures have attempted to decipher our own humanness through myth and lore, so, too, does Glaessner. Her capricious figments of imagination signal to history’s endless attempts at understanding our own inherent humanness and role in nature.
“Phantom Tail” is an invitation to impart and understand, to serve as a wellspring of renewal. Glaessner and her figures endeavor to dismantle our customs in exchange for ancient intuition. They usher us to the truth that only through nature, and our inherent connection to nature, will there ever be truth and meaning.