In “Jared Small: An Epoch” at David Lusk Gallery in Memphis, the artist presents two series of new paintings that are closely related: one of deteriorating homes in the South, and another of gloomy floral still lifes. These, displayed with a corresponding video, elicit both a nostalgia for specific times past and a trepidation towards the future.
Painted on panel or mylar, Small’s works capture the murky humidity of the South in color and subject. The series began with a set of photographs taken of the changing surroundings of the Victorian mansion depicted in Mollies (2015) The artist then began to paint each scene, following the progression of time captured in the photos: slowly creeping ivy, a tree reduced to a stump, flaking paint and rotting wood (a long process of decomposition is visible in the accompanying video). In the resulting painting, each of these stages remains visible as a ghostly trace.
Each other space he paints in the same time-lapse fashion—noirish saloons, barns, trolleys, grandiose homes—were once gleaming and clean, part of thriving communities and economies; now they are empty and menaced by slowly gathering storms. The loss of glory and a certain distress resides in these spaces, a sentiment evidenced by his titles and the precipice on which he places his subjects in works such as Why and Once on Beale (both 2015), in which a trolley and storefront melt into dripping dark backgrounds as if being swallowed up by time. Similarly, the painted flowers, each representing a season, seem to be snapshots of an ultimately fleeting youth. Delicate and beautiful, they are threatened by the creeping darkness making its way into the canvas, as in Winter, or by unavoidable wilting predicted by paint streaking down the canvas in the Peony and Rananculus works.
Small renders his subjects with a gorgeous veracity that comes close to approaching trompe l’oeil, evidencing both his interest in and admiration for them, as well as a wistfulness towards what will be lost. Each work projects the unique air of a corner of the South being steadily swallowed by the mud of the past; the titular epoch is both romanticized and pitied, and in need of a savior.
“Jared Small: An Epoch” is on view at David Lusk Gallery, Memphis, Apr. 21–May 23, 2015.