Allison Stewart’s current solo exhibition at Mark Gallery, “River and Bloom,” is a stirring incantation to the natural world. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina left the Louisiana Gulf Coast in tatters and exposed America to its own awful truths. Stewart, who lives in New Orleans, returns to this calamity, wielding her paintbrush and delving into the tenuous relationship between man and his environment.
Stewart refers to her works as “floating worlds,” and her paintings are universes without a horizon, where shapes bump and gently bleed into one another. On large, expansive canvases, puddles of color evoke blooming flowers that mingle with painted tendrils hinting at stalks and leaves. Stewart trained as a biologist before receiving her MFA, but clinical observation holds little interest for her. These paintings are tender musings on nature’s frailty and fleetingness. In Wind Dance #9, vibrant tufts of fuchsia and bright green contrast with the more wan browns, black, and greys of Wind Dance #2. Even if human tumult and violence are excised from view, their imprint is keenly felt in the delicate botany Stewart conjures.
Through flowers tinged with decay and canvases stained with burnished orange and amber, Stewart cautions us to the damage we wreak on the environment, but her works are also a place of refuge. To echo the words of author Jesmyn Ward, “Life is a hurricane, and we board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in that small space above the dirt where the wind will not reach.” Stewart offers us one such shelter: above ground and shielded from bitter gales, but always, always connected to the soil.
“River and Bloom: New works by Allison Stewart” is on view at Mark Gallery, Englewood, NJ May 29 – July 17, 2014.