Left to right: South Carolina I, Turtles, South Carolina II.
︎ Moremen Gallery, Louisville
L Autumn Gnadinger
Anne Peabody’s Sunspike at Moremen Gallery offers a postured collection of landscapes that depict familiar wooded environments while simultaneously estranging viewers from their own sense of that familiarity. The exhibition is largely made up of drawings of the American South (Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, mostly), but everything in Sunspike centers a material interest in fine metals and their continuously transient states of polish, tarnish, and decay. Between this and Peabody’s heavy use of mirroring effects—which pulls in everything from the exit signs of the gallery to the sky over Main Street—Sunspike always has a sense of movement; temporal, spatial, or both.
The imagery itself is uncomplicated: trees, shrubs, or vines make up most of the show. The titular work Sunspike (2017), which one sees immediately upon entering the gallery, is no exception. A total of 16 glass panels are arranged in a tight grid that, when assembled, reveal a complete large-format image 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Peabody’s process for producing the individual panels is protracted but reveals a lot about the overall intent. She first adheres silver leaf to the back of glass sheets. From there, she uses a combination of tools (brushes or fingertips, for instance) to draw into the leaf, which discolors or removes certain areas of the metal. Peabody then rolls literal dice, allowing chance to determine how many days the reactive metal surface is allowed to be exposed to air (2-12 days, according to the artist), before finally sealing the object with a backing of dark paint. This both preserves the state of the metal (protecting it from the air), and also completes a sort of antique mirror.
The use of randomness and chance in the process is a quiet but potent aspect of Peabody’s work. The center hallway of Moremen Gallery is dotted with a line of individual 24”x18” glass sheets (the same size as the individual components of the larger grids like Sunspike) and demonstrates the impact that chance has on the final optic effect. Some panels have clean, preserved lines like in Fog (2020), while others have fully given way to a distortion of time. A standout example of this is Man Tree (2020), which capitalizes both on the gesture of Peabody’s drawings and maximizes the amount of deterioration, barely stopping short of complete obscurity. What’s left is a fully sublime artifact reminiscent of late zen ink and wash paintings. Man Tree feels like it has more in common with the 15th-century landscapes of Sesshu Toyo than it does other landscape drawings of the American South.
If the rest of the exhibition is a fossilized record of past randomness, the three drawings on silk—which hang in a separate room—are exercises in chance that are unfolding in real-time. The drawings seem straightforward: rectangles of tightly arranged marks in now-familiar metallic leaves that feel typographic, or glyphic. The key difference is that the metals adhered to these three drawings are left unprotected and are actively tarnishing while they hang on the wall. According to the exhibition statement: “Moisture, chemicals, and other impurities in the air in which they are hung darken and discolor the silver and white gold marks, changing the image and revealing the scenes in greater detail over the passage of time.” In more ways than one, these works are the rest of Sunspike in reverse—uniquely alive.
It is easy to say that the silk pieces will offer an active and moving viewing experience for the duration of Sunspike. Given their continuously shifting appearance, however, it is difficult to imagine how long they will carry this intrigue. Whether assessing the drawings on glass, or these drawings on silk, Peabody’s work is most successful when it has either mostly deteriorated, or only just beginning to reveal itself. Outside of these extremes, when things feel more firmly determined, one can feel a little letdown. An example of this is Walking Thread (2020), a large copper sculpture that depicts a mass of vines and flora in the back of the exhibition space. All of the pieces are cut, shaped, and soldered by hand—no doubt a tireless effort to construct—but the palpable uncertainty felt in the rest of Sunspike feels forcefully absent here. Walking Thread, and many smaller Untitled works that are more photorealistic read like something of a curatorial afterthought in an otherwise clean and well-executed collection of new work.
Overall, the work in Sunspike feels grounded and connected to a variety of threads in art history: at once painterly, photographic, and performative. The frequent use of a mirror effect is a thin line to walk—something that runs the risk of feeling gimmicky—but is deftly handled by Peabody with her thoughtful incorporation of chance. To see a show like Sunspike in the spring of 2020 is an ironic, but incredibly timely, meditation on forces that are outside of our control.
Sunspike is on view at Moremen Gallery through May 8, 2020, though is currently closed.
Moremen Gallery is located at 710 W. Main St., 2nd Floor, Louisville, KY 40202.
L Autumn Gnadinger
Print & Digital Content Editor, Contributor
Sunspike (2017), sterling silver leaf, gold flake, and paint on glass, 8’x6’ (16 panels).
Man Tree (2020), antique sterling silver leaf, gold flake, paint on glass, 24”x18”. Photo courtesy of Moremen Gallery.
Ponds and Trees (2020) detail, antique sterling silver leaf, gold flake, and paint on glass, 24”x18”
Install at Moremen Gallery.
Tan Halo (2020), sterling silver and gold leaf on silk, 38”x57”
Tan Halo (2020) detail, sterling silver and gold leaf on silk, 38”x57”
Walking Thread (2020), copper, dimensions vary.
Walking Thread (2020) detail, copper, dimensions vary.