What is the nature of a narrative? It has a beginning, it has a development that involves content, often conflict, ideally growth and progression, and it has an end. The best narratives are the ones that have an end that does not end, that through our experience of the narrative, transform us so the narrative goes on living in our experience. This conception of the living narrative may have more to do with the art of Teresa Kalnoskas than is immediately apparent. Kalnoskas, who is showing this month at Park City’s Julie Nester Gallery, paints abstractions of luscious ripe fruit, but what may appear static in her work is in fact a living narrative.
Contemporary still life can frequently be just that, still, devoid of any temporality. Take Logan’s Christopher Terry, who distills all traces of temporality from his very precisely articulated still-lifes. Terry is at the top of his field for doing what he does, but it is something drastically different from what Kalnoskas does, proving that genre labels can be as harmful as they are helpful.
Rather than stillness and immobility, Kalnoskas views the still life as a narrative, full of life, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Many of her current works are large, square-format work, filled with rich color that is used with great density in hue that varies in totality to create a product that can only be described as lush. The fruit that appears in these paintings look sweet. They feel juicy to the eye. The paint appears something to be bitten into, with juices dripping from the corner of the mouth.
Kalnoskas, who works in oils, alkyds and wax, has a singular use of the brush that builds or diminishes her intensity of color, from highlight on top to great shadow underneath. The brushstroke can be described as Japanese in stroke. In “Viva” it seems a samurai sword has taken great swipes of color and, through these many strokes, built up the subject, which, ultimately, has an abstract quality that in itself has a Japanese quality of universality or simplicity: Zen. This is carried on over the top of the fruit where strokes, like electrons circling an atom, highlight the forms and give a vibrational energy to the painting. These forms and lines are in the end held together by dense areas of flat space, executed in an equally abstract format.
In some cases, the fruit of Kalnoskas’s paintings seem only to be an excuse for paint, vague, almost obliterated anchors in a swirl of fecund color and movement of paint. The guava of “Mexican Guava,” are recognizable objects, as are plums and pears in other paintings, but in a painting like “Heirlooms Orange” the subject has become almost unrecognizable, the glimpse of a stalk the one hint at what lies beneath the paint.
In “Joie de Vivre with Figs,” Kalnoskas’s full painterly and narrative powers are revealed. The subjects are several figs, one cut open in sections. The unopened figs are opaquely dark with a heavy texture that makes them very robust with a texture that seems fibrous and flaxen. Contrast this to the view of the opened fig — it looks like the kind to put to your mouth and suck the juicy flesh out of, enjoying the rich sweetness as it caresses the back of the throat and slides down in an experience of epicurean ecstasy. The mouth is full of a sour sweetness that feels so satisfying another bite is in order and this fruit begs to be nursed upon until every last morsel of this delightsome meat has been washed down the throat with the utmost pleasure.
The fruits in “Joie de Vivre” are rendered in a manner that unites them with the abstract qualities of the paint, thus capturing them in their greatest fecundity: we are at the climax of this particular narrative, something that is rendered in a Zen-like abstraction that heightens this fecundity, universalizing it and making it much more than a simple still life. The painting is a moment, a slice of time, that has embedded in it a full narrative: the unopened figs a past, and the dripping ripe fruit a very sensuous present, but one that implies its own decaying end.
We can see in these assemblages of fruit, these microcosms of existence, the macrocosm of that temporality that is a ruling factor to everything; and to everything there is process, and to all process, there is beauty, be it at the beginning, the climax or the end. The colors will be a different intensity, lighter or darker, or more or less intense, the juiciness may be more or less full and abundant, bursting from the flesh like a full sponge, or quite dry. But always the abstraction will be the same, the universal thread of life that brings harmony and unites all phases of life, and we can be assured of our own universal unity just as these still lifes are a testimony to a universal harmonious unification.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. He is now a professional writer living in Salt Lake City.