Phil Space, Santa Fe
February 23 – April 27, 2018
“A dialectic is a useful construct for a biographer, but it exists to be transcended. A coherent personality aspires, like a work of art, to contain its conflicts without resolving them…”
—Judith Thurman, Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette
Shelley Horton-Trippe, in her recent exhibition High Brow Low Ride, references the great twentieth-century French writer Colette by way of a large painting titled The Pure and the Impure (Colette). Horton-Trippe draws on Colette’s book, The Pure and the Impure, where the writer attempts a deconstruction of the nature of the gender-bound self, particularly as it applies to women. Colette’s dialectical probing is one of the first literary examples of just how subjective the topic of gender and sexuality is—a topic that can never be contained by an either/or treatment. Colette herself was nothing if not a polymorphous perverse artist who considered her ravenous, desiring self as the ever-inquisitive product of an “ego in consonance with nature.” Horton-Trippe’s homage to Colette is a painting that is both delicate and bold, with passages that are fluid and garden-like, and as obdurate and opaque as stone. Her painting exudes a sexy lyricism—with its subtle male and female signifiers—and it is balanced by an area in the painting symbolizing a warped confusion in the guise of a tangle of painterly lines; but this tangle cannot resolve itself with a hopelessly pretty pink spatial allusion to a vagina that seems to be floating down from above; or perhaps it’s merely ascending from the confusion—powerful in its ascendancy and not afraid of its pictorial fragility. But there’s more: a distinctly phallic shape enters from the right edge of the painting, it too more delicate than dominating.
Although The Pure and the Impure (Colette) is not my favorite work in Horton-Trippe’s blockbuster show, nevertheless there is so much in it that meets the eye and then veers off into an abstract but intimate intention where the aim of the artist is not to resolve opposites so much as open up a space to meander in oppositional forces: the soft and the hard, the passive and the aggressive, pale fugitive color, and vividly anchored forms that have arisen from a constant search for meaning in a turbulent world. Yet Horton-Trippe knows that resolution is hard to come by even on a good day.
One of the most compelling works in the show, and indeed my favorite is Freak Flag, whose title belies the mystique of the painting’s Tantric-like essence in terms of visual imagery—there is an intense central blood-red triangle with rounded edges. Surrounding this shape are seven blue circles on an off-white ground. Eschewing superfluous brushstrokes in favor of a determined sense of wholeness, it’s as if Horton-Trippe scraped away her own propensity for painterly fugue states and set forth a personal sutra in visual terms about her need to embrace a metaphysical formality that aspires to a transcendental state. As Franck André Jamme wrote in his notes on the history of Tantric painting, “These works assemble almost everything in almost nothing.”
Freak Flag is an anomaly of sorts in Horton-Trippe’s dialectical flux—and it’s not a flag of truce so much as a prayer flag anchored within the artists relentless search for expression as she allows herself to be swept away to another patch of canvas in order to grapple with other contrasts between form and formlessness and the push and pull of yin/yang energy.
Horton-Trippe is an artist not bound by the life of a painter only. She is also an installation artist, a performer, and someone who works with moving images. This kind of multi-faceted creative personality can be both a blessing and a curse to the artistic process. For Horton-Trippe there is a need to tame the tiger, as it were, so the products of her creative drive can flow toward a coherent set of messages that in the end all emanate from her “temple of voluptuous devotions.”