In Personae, her current exhibit at Salt Lake City’s Marmalade Branch Library, Whitney Horrocks has managed to bring emotion to the surface through many layers of abstraction, showing the viewer the depth of the work even as the initial presentation may seem classically light and colorful. In all the pieces, displayed on two levels of the library, white, pink, and burgundy predominate, but on further inspection, more layers are distinguished, and the individual beauty of each painting reveals itself.
In the upstairs gallery space, the large painting titled “Wound” draws the eye to the abrupt, dark burgundy hole that has torn its way violently through a bright white background, drips of white paint falling to the bottom of the birch panel. The colors are muted and dark, drawing the eye to the center of the injured artwork. Just next to this piece, however, Horrocks has placed two delicate, almost insect-like pieces, titled “Aculeate 1” and “Aculeate 2”, meaning “sharply pointed, prickly”. These two pieces indeed do have sharp points and jagged corners, as well as metallic gold paint and use of dynamic coloration and movement created in the brushstrokes. They stand in stark juxtaposition to the larger “Wound” for several reasons. They are significantly smaller paintings, but they seem to be busier as well. They are more brightly colored, and have more significantly contrasting colors layered upon each other. They also have more defined form, while “Wound” seems to be somewhat amorphous. The fact that these three images are displayed so close to one another creates an interesting play within the space, and makes for visual excitement. It gives the viewer an opportunity to find similarities and differences, and to look between one work and the other pair, and find different moments of catharsis in each.
The many layers of human emotion are what the University of Utah grad wants to explore with her work. Her goal, she says, is to create work that is palatable, even though it is complex and layered and deeply faceted. Her work achieves just this purpose. If the viewer takes enough time to consider any one of the pieces presented at the gallery, the layers start to become apparent. Not only are there different colors hidden beneath each bolder part of the canvas, but different techniques also are called to the forefront. The subtlety and complexity seems nearly endless.
A piece that from across the room may appear as some classically painted burgundy flowers on a pink-and-white background, when approached transforms into myriad layers of paint put on through brushstrokes, through dripping, through hours of painstaking work. The backgrounds are not simply pink and white, but contain subtler shades of blue, of orange, of surprising yellow and bright gold. The pieces take time to consider, as do the multilayered personae of people.
Horrocks has achieved her goal, creating pieces that are palatable to look at, but complicated beneath the surface, and take time to consider deeply. Her fusion of classic and contemporary techniques, as well as her refreshing approach to storytelling through paint, make this an exhibit well worth stopping by to see.
Personae: Paintings by Whitney Horrocks, Marmalade Branch Library (280 West 500 North, SLC), through May 26.