Victoria Neel
Baumgartner Gallery: April 7 – 30, 2007

Victoria Neel, “Battle” (2006). Gouache on paper. 12 x 15 inches

Victoria Neel is one of several emerging talents, including Marcel Dzama, Amy Cutler, Anthony Goicolea, and the lesser-known, Philadelphia-based Michelle Oosterbaan, who have rediscovered a playful form of figurative lyricism rooted in the history and traditions of illustration. On the surface, the abstracted figures, horses, bulls, and tigers populating her works on paper are reminiscent of many a children’s book or circus poster. The inherent innocence of this style is countered by bizarrely surreal flourishes, such as a soldier swinging his saber at a lush pink cloud of female breasts. The concept of opposition is a key to Neel’s thought. She fashions the close proximity of beauty and destruction, capture and flight, loss and gain, into a poetic contemplation of life’s inevitabilities. While revelations that good can’t exist without evil or that any up will be followed by a down are hardly revolutionary, in Neel’s hands they become a sensitive outline for existential ironies.

In her New York solo debut, Neel unites two larger bodies of work. One is inspired by her dreams and nightmares, which are altered in their transformation into images on paper, as Neel puts it, by the “day’s residue (mood and color of a poem, a piece of music, an encounter).” Neel’s attempt to process her overwhelming mélange of private impressions and experiences, though filtered through a veil of fiction, effectively reflects the global realities we watch every day on TV. Not unlike irrational dreams, we try to weave our way through the information and adjust it to the limited perspectives of our personal lives.

The other group of works belongs to Neel’s current project entitled “Les Oiseaux sans Ciel” (“Birds without Sky”). These elegant renderings of the city’s pigeons and doves, set against the bleak whiteness of the blank paper ground, become metaphors of dislocation and metamorphosis. While these creatures, omnipresent in urban environments, are mostly considered nuisances, strung to their fate, they were brought to this continent as mail transporters, a noble purpose stripped away by the progress of technology. By affording them heroic space, Neel treats them not as embodiments of failure, but as symbols of human cruelty and forgetfulness.

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