The Dangerously Alluring Art of Candy, in Elisa Contemporary’s New Group Show

Tapping into the pleasure principles of everyone’s favorite flavors, New York gallery Elisa Contemporary brings together four artists from around the country. Floridian Paula Brett, New Yorker Michael Barletta, and Hawaiian couple Peter and Madeline Powell take as their themes nostalgia and satisfaction derived from a uniquely American juxtaposition that’s all about excitement, in “Sugar N’ Spice.”

Working in a variety of media, the artists jump quickly from the idea of “sugar n’ spice” into commentary about the human relationship to indulgence. Paula Brett’s geometric patterns of colorful candy evoke mandalas, the Hindu and Buddhist symbols representing the universe. However, here they are renamed “candalas” (candy plus mandala), as in the works Penguin Parade Candala (2013), Polyphorous Candala (2014), and Jelly Blue Bazooka Pop Candela (2013), and speak to the commodification of spiritual icons, celebration of the profane, and the ways in which both sugar and religion can be seen as representative of addiction.

Paintings by the artist pair Peter and Madeline Powell similarly elevate the image of the mundane sweet to the sublime in large-scale, hyperrealistic paintings, such as A Pair of Big Pops (2014), Pay Day (2013), and Pile O Gummies (2014). By changing the scale and highlighting the vintage-yet-contemporary branding, it becomes clear that these products have achieved a timeless status—candy as cultural indicator. These works draw heavily on a pop art aesthetic, harkening back to Andy Warhol’s soup cans.

Six drawings and one painting by self-taught Syracuse artist Michael Barletta move into the “spicy” territory. Barletta depicts forms that are in many ways floral and alluring, but which also hint at danger. His ink-on-mylar drawings are almost nightmarish, abstract forms resembling aliens or sea creatures with menacing details, like the gaping mouth in Drawing 14 (2007). Through his work, Barletta attempts to uncover, as he says, “color and shapes that stir the emotions and engage the senses.”

Taken together, “sugar” and “spice” here become about the relationship between modes of thinking: the painted, drawn, and photographed objects and food  reflect contemporary psychological states in a complicated and consumer-driven society.

—K. Sundberg

Sugar N’ Spice” is on view at Elisa Contemporary, New York, Feb. 7th–Apr. 12th, 2015.

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