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Kate Teale: the sea is all around us.

Kate Teale's work, in her first one-person show in 10 years, looks and feels, at first glance, to be quietest in its tonal reduction and insular subjects. Her works on paper and rice paper affixed to canvas are modest in scale and play the middle range of contrast. The two main subjects in this array are close-ups of bedclothes and mattress quilting, along with video grabs of flooding from tsunami incidents taken from YouTube; one is subject as site, the other subject as incident, and both are rendered in a flickering reductive process (she erases back from a full charge of graphite or oil paint on paper) that creates a tenebrous surface tension, somewhat reminiscent of Lucien Freud's corporealist touch. This lateral tension of light takes her representational subjects into liminal territory. Because of this, many of the close-up images of bed sheets fluctuate between abstraction and figuration, allowing their representational armature a freer, more associative play of form.

This play is evident in works like the show's title piece "The Sea is All Around Us" (2011). In this oil painting on rice paper on canvas, Teale maps the tilted plane of a horizontally striped sheet in a cropped close-up. The effect of the composition is to direct one's scan laterally across the painting's shallow depth. One tends to "read" this painting from left to right and back again, which counteracts its realistically rendered depth. The slight nod that Teale makes to perspectival diminution, in the narrowing widths of the stripes, bends the space against this horizontal reading, as do more subtle folds in diagonal counterpoint. This modestly-sized painting swells in rolling expanse like the ocean, and like the sea's surface, telegraphs further disturbances.

Teale's water subjects, on the other hand, are titled like critical domestic dramas--"Repossession" (2012) and "Over the Edge" (2013)--while many of her bed pieces have titles such as "Sea Change" (2013) and "Rising Tide" (2012). One becomes aware that Teale is gaming with her own intentionality and offering a suspended solution of form and content. There is something unsettling about this.

The show's installation was also indicative of the paradoxical nature of the artist's intentionally mixed messages; the majority of the "bed" pieces were installed on one wall opposite the "flood" images. One notices in this array a sharp contrast between the rigorously painted and wiped domestic subjects and the softly rendered water images in erased graphite--the bedscapes, for example, reading as much more phenomenal than the tsunami stills. Teale's dreamscape is a weighty one, while her images of rampant nature float weightlessly in a more imagined, benign envelopment. The fluid, transformative possibilities of water lap against the psychologically freighted bedscapes. Here, nature gets addressed at a more formal and idealized distance, while the prosaic gets microcosmically naturalized.

Almost all of the work in the show is rendered in tones of middle gray and white, the distribution of which tends to push the subject to the surface. Using a blending stump dipped in graphite powder to elucidate the effect, Teale has an extraordinarily light touch in tonal transitions. Although the work often feels academically rendered, she rarely uses pencil. Rather, her oil paintings resemble drawings and are wiped away in a reductive process similar to her graphite work, although all the grays are mixed from a range of chromatic pigments. Her use of the oil medium feels surprisingly desiccated, imparting a feeling of marble chiseled in low relief. In one of the paintings, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" (2011), she uses oil color in a monochromatic red-orange, reminiscent of the red-oxide chalk of Renaissance figure studies. This piece, in addition to its hue, is also a standout in its more expressionist, rippled composition, apparently a bunched up sheet. The explicit subject couldn't be more bland, but an implicit tension compresses its shallowly folded ground, similar to the muscular, 15th-century Dutch landscapes of Hercules Seghers. As in the drawings, Teale's empathic touch in her paintings evokes both atmospheric perspective and embodied volume. Her sense of a materiality of vision all but transcends her humble subject matter, perhaps one of the points of her work; these aren't intended to be transcendent works of art, and that's why they exert such a gravitational pull.

56 Bogart St. // Brooklyn, NY
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Author:McGlynn, Tom
Publication:The Brooklyn Rail
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2013
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