“Half-Held by the Night” is a quote from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the title to Jenn Dierdorf’s intimate show of paintings at Morgan Lehman Gallery. I sat down with Jenn to discuss this body of work last week and though I interviewed her, I thought I would choose to share some of the moments that gave me a clear notion of what these works are and where they come from.
Each of the paintings in Half Held by the Night is primarily black, with a burst of irradiated blossoms. The bouquets are fluid and abstract. They are very clearly flowers, but also are not. Each is named for a night-blooming flower, but is not an image of said flower. The work Dierdorf had been making a few years ago was “Goofy but Sinister” in the artists words. It recalled Sue Williams, Peter Saul and the dark jokiness of the Chicago Imagists. Images were filled with phallic and vaginal forms but they all remained abstractions in cartoonish line.
The flowers have none of that goofiness and a completely different type of darkness. The darkness here is best connected to Dutch Vanitas painting. The series began as an experiment, first on canvas, then on the pages of a Brooklyn Rail, used as a sketchbook. The series progressed onto 50 small canvases, about the size of a sheet of paper and then on to 12 panels which were given the name of a month. While she works, Dierdorf says she is present with the materials, rather than attempting to replicate a sketch or will into being a reference to some other work. Each panel in the exhibition is actually the 4th or 5th painting on that panel. Dierdorf is working over paintings and making a textured surface that hides under painting. The darkness is more than the blackness of space in which the flowers sit.
Dierdorf’s flowers are unresolved. They are a conglomeration of gestures, wet on wet, reacting and moving. Her work is moving in a direction where visibility, whether in darkness or in a pale, opaque palette, is compromised. In my view, the flower is the armature for the abstraction. The flowers, the smudges, the hint of light is visible yet unforced. It is exciting to see the evolution and I implore you to see the work soon.
This is the last week to catch Half Held by the Night at Morgan Lehman Gallery.