Canvases That Are All Elephant

WHEN I was a younger painter I looked at Willem de Kooning. He put so much into his riveting canvases that I was sure it must have taken as much out of him. Photographs of the artist appear to bear this out. Likewise Francis Bacon seemed to graft his very life into his grisly masterpieces. These days it is Anselm Kiefer who has captured the public's imagination with his monster paintings. John Baker, the biographer of Porfirio Didonna, says Kiefer has other painters running scared. Just recently, howeve r, I saw the work of a young painter that promised the same power to strike fear in and even break our hearts.

Wynne Reeves. With her I get my hands full. Her massive paintings rumble like a waking giant. Their weight is almost too much to bear. I have to wonder, where do they come from? Reeves's images are not pretty, but they have a raw power that sparks awe. They awaken the sleeping passion, reminding me that the spirit can move mountains.

These are wall-sized paintings. Most of them feel like sculpture. If you don't yield to them, then you run from them. They accept no middle ground and offer none. Nor will they be taken lightly. That's what makes them frightening and difficult.

They are true to the metaphor which brings them to life: all elephant, all hands full.

These elephants come from the imagination, yes, but more significantly, they come from something inside. After talking to her, I was convinced of how much they speak for her. They are not some society hostess's plea for the Humpback. They are instead a profoundly empathetic metaphor for how she views her own struggle. The elephant is a poignant stand-in for a majestic dream or a soaring potential pulled downward by gravity.

This is all something internal, something painted physically, energetically, emotionally, to become something external, something real, realized. It is the getting of the inside out to bring the outside in.

The results are not realistic in any but the most poetic sense. They tell a truth galvanized by experience, not observation, driving it deep and making it tangible in broad strokes or paint. For the most part, they are forged in black, white, brown, and grays to reinforce their dense form and meaning. Reeves says when she can see the color, it will happen.

In "Me and Me," I find Reeves at her best. The image is felt because it is sound pictorially. The solid foundation of the composition allows her to devote her powers to the articulation of the forces that act out her meaning. The abstracted form of the elephant is sinking in the tar pit while fierce elemental forces swirl and blaze in the background, presumably up to the task of freeing the creature.

"Me and Me" is less sculptural and moody than her other images, but more dynamic and focused. Ironically, it is those elements stirring outside that are a manifestation of the powers within. That the elephant is dwarfed by these expressions in this last painting is the most telling indication of what is to come.

And what is to come?

After graduating from college in Illinois, Reeves did the artist's requisite "tour of duty" in New York City, with time off to take in some of the short programs at the Vermont Studio School. She recently left New York and settled briefly in the Michigan countryside.

After her show of these "blind beast within" paintings last spring at the Crux Gallery in Chicago, she went off to slay yet another dragon, this time Paris, which sounds about right. The French will have their hands full.

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