current solo exhibition at Mark Gallery, “River and
,” 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
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.