Jessica Gorlicky’s work, most recently exhibited at the JESSGO gallery on Queen St, marks the emergence of a new aesthetic that supersedes mere aestheticism. In its wide ranging form and content spanning the decades with its iconic 1960s pop figures such Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin, its 1980s video game figures and Walt Disney figures, it is a tableau of the culture, providing significant clues as to where we’ve been and to where we might be going.
Colour. Gorlicky is a master colourist, able to command the chromatic scale and create dazzling effects that defy any easy separation of energy from matter. Indeed, her work is a painterly illustration of Einstein’s famous equation. Musically, with her palette as keyboard, she is a jazz and blues pianist, performing death-defying feats of tonal bravado stretching the acoustic-visual possibilities into the realm of fabulously uncharted scales. As we shall see synaesthesia, the effects of one medium transferred into another, is a key signature found in many of her works. How so?
Let us count the ways beginning with The Sound of Art, her portrait of Diana Ross. Singing and painting: Ross’ black Afro hair is filled with pink, blue, and magenta flowers and birds. Her face is tilted upward, mouth open. Gorlicky has caught Ross in mid-song, so to speak, freezing the moment, thus the matter in e=mc2 while her colour together with Ross’s upward look instantaneously unfreezes the matter, releasing in one flowing, gorgeous motion the power of song. In the beginning, to modify a well-known verbal riff, was the Song, the Potential to Create.
Saturday Morning shows a similar ingenuity in contrasting different media within a single frame of reference. The title is redolent of children’s cartoons, and it invites us, it would seem, into that cozy space of mental abandonment to the pleasures of the TV screen. In the foreground are images from children’s cartoon shows such as Betty from the Flintstones. Taking up the foreground is Daffy Duck with his sailor cap, the focus on the head with his yellow bill open, cut off by the picture frame. It creates an effect that jars the comfortable mind-set conjured up by the title. This viewer has the impression of being swallowed up; to look at Daffy Duck’s open bill is to be caught by a black abyss. An unexpected frisson, fearful and curious, runs up my cultural spine.
Gorlicky evokes both the pleasures and dangers of children’s TV, raising questions, more generally, about how the media, those extensions of man, as McLuhan said, structure perception and experience. Are we being swallowed up by the mass cultural figures that we have created within the last fifty years? Are we consumed by what we consumed?
In Hand Made and Sprayed warm and earthy tones of salmon, scarlet, and vermillion on the right side and softer earth tones compared to the right, of dusky greens, blues highlighted by streaks of violet and sky blue form a young woman’s face. Shaded with the dominant colours of each side, the eyes have in addition yellow making them almost feral. The total effect is to create a face is sculpted out the earth itself with the wildness of the beast starting out at the viewer. Once more the colours evoke (earth) matter while their tonal subtlety creates a free-flowing effect of boundless energy. The work is both supremely beautiful and disturbing. It is as if the Earth Goddess is asking us to look at ourselves, her wild look implying that whatever we do to Her, she remains Herself.
In Speak4URse!f images of a young woman with a 1970s hairdo with its curled up black hair is set against dark crimson hearts. It is not sentimental à la Valentine’s Day. The woman ironically is silent, and her silent bespeaks, however, how the mythology of ‘romance’ that offers ‘protection’ and ‘understanding,’ in short, love is often used under patriarchal auspices to imprison women in job ghettos with lower pay in the more developed sectors of the capitalist world economy, or outright brutality and genital mutilation in less economically developed ones. Like the previous images, Gorlicky’s work while stunningly beautiful is equally probing, colours and form corresponding to analysis with its isolating and explanation of dominant cultural features.
In Paint my Candy, an enormous red tongue, frog-like in its action, snapping out of a light blue face-like colour mass reaches for a purple-red lollipop. The phrase ‘eye-candy’ comes to mind, the title, however, resisting that easy characterization of the work or more implicitly of women. ‘Sweetheart,’ ‘sugar,’ and ‘honey,’ and similar thick and sticky substances are applied to women as terms of endearment but also as forms of semiotic capture. Again, the viewer is faced with the disturbing aspects of a medium and how, ‘stuck’ in certain verbal patterns with their characteristic stimulus and response, we are unconsciously moulded by forces ‘operating behind our backs’ as Marx said. And the point is for each of us to become both the subject and object of our lives. By objectifying those forces, art acts to resist that unconsciousness, being thus a tool for liberation.
In Human Nature the viewer observes sees a wide range of coloured stripes with blues, greens, and purples to the left, creating a slightly ‘cold’ visual environment, and which comes to a dramatic halt in the middle with a thick yellow stripe, earth tones then taking over. The words “i hate your negative shit” in bold black, more to the earth tone section of the colour spectrum confront the viewer. Form and content provide a vibrantly strong contrast, the colours themselves positive while the words are negative. In their juxtaposition they again leave the viewer to resolve this dissonance. What is the quality of our lives?
To conclude, what is the new aesthetic that Gorlicky’s work is pioneering, she blazing a multi-colour path across the semiotic-cultural landscape? It is the electro-chromatic psychedelic that deconstructs the categories of energy and matter. It is the New Now.
All images from the artist’s website.