By Tom Wachunas
“…But I actually needed the experience of wandering, of getting lost, of finding my footing once again in that map, that place from the past, the place I hope will also be somewhere significant in my daughter’s legacy.” - Emily Vigil, on her painting called “Heritage”
EXHIBIT: A Sense of Place – Paintings and Drawings by Emily Vigil / at Malone Art Gallery in the Johnson Center at Malone University, THROUGH OCTOBER 8, 2016 / 2600 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio
(A Sense of Place also includes a companion exhibit of photographs by Mark Pitocco in Malone’s McFadden Gallery.)
Among my more resonant take-aways from this exhibit by Emily Vigil is a renewed appreciation of a painting as a potent location unto itself. At its most rudimentary, a painting is a discrete “place” wherein decisions have been made, where events have transpired – the colors or lines here, or the shapes and forms there. You could also think of a painting as a destination, or in a broader sense, the artist’s journey arrested in time. Then, when we as viewers visit that destination, we in effect continue the journey to yet another destination, one that is, in the end, of our own determining. Beyond being just a “picture of something” offered by the artist, a painting is its own where…a space that can be a tangible home to the very act of remembering, of association, or of imagining.
Vigil’s expressive, unfussy brushwork has a plein air spontaneity about it, and some of her most engaging pieces have been interestingly engineered so that the picture plane has been divided into picture plains, so to speak. In these, the overall matrix is composed of smaller nested rectangles. Imagine observing a landscape from eye-level, from the air, and zooming in on a smaller component all at the same time. Simultaneous spatial perspectives.
Additionally, there’s a dual spirit threaded through this collection. One is of authentic savoring of a remembered, or fictive (though longed for) place, the other more pressing, as if anxious at the prospect of lost habitats or environments. The paintings constitute a kind of mapping of the tentative if not threatened balance between reverential exploration of a place, and our destructive encroachments upon it.
The large acrylic, “Heritage,” is an impressive remembrance of Vigil’s 16th-century ancestors’ home turf in the United Kingdom. Blended into the fern growths and soil, bathed in a soft, warm light, are snippets of Medieval text and map of the countryside. In the oil painting, “Coastal Competition,” on the other hand, we see an aerial view of organized modern streets and structures that feel at odds with the straight-on, close-up tangle of strangely red branches and exposed roots at water’s edge, rendered at the top of the image.
Water’s edge indeed, “Downstream” also gives us an unusual bird’s-eye view of modernity. This time it’s a double kitchen sink, hovering (or teetering?) above a distant horizontal seascape. I “read” the sink as the gaping maw of civilized living, ready to empty its contents into the crashing waves.
And if I’m reading too much into such images, it’s only because I feel instructed to do so, as in following a map to a destination. In that sense, I think of Vigil’s paintings as perceptual cartography.
PHOTOS, from top: Heritage; New River Rhyme; Coastal Competition; Origin; Downstream