In the moments before Jennifer Small’s artist talk for her exhibition Extra in the Ordinary, a friend mused to me, “This show is for folks who really like paintings.” I can certainly relate to that sentiment. After all, punchy color, roller-coaster levels of movement, and space-warping painterly effects are frankly my jam. However, rather than excluding the average eye that would come across it, this vast exhibition of abstract paintings ranging from small to human-sized has bold flavors that would bid any and all to come enjoy.
I was quite impressed by the degree of tonal and aesthetic consistency across the varied sizes of the paintings. Even the smallest pieces (at about 8 x 12 inches) communicate with the same vocabulary—hard edged forms contrast atmospheric paint handling in order to create plunging depth and illusory space. Like sentences building within a paragraph, the consistent use of these elements is used to bring the content of the exhibition in a believable way.
Although they rather loudly invite attention, all the artworks in this exhibition convey a sense of energetic familiarity. The forms that she references are those of ordinary, daily life but are then heightened and dignified, having been amassed into monumental structures which contain their own space and gravity. Jennifer builds these architectural forms out of snippets of visual details captured in photographs; things that piqued her interest during any average day. These chronologically diverse shapes, colors, and forms, are then upfitted with vibrant colors and placed within a new context– one where they are no longer ordinary but rather integral to the holding together of this newly invented space. It’s like she’s taken these unassuming elements, secretly loaded with allusive potential, and polished them up till they glow.
At first glance the viewer is likely to receive a general delight and fascination from the deft handling of space and color within these works. But after reflecting on their collagic nature incorporating the lowly or overlooked, the viewer may find themselves—like me—feeling charged with a desire to pay more attention to my own ordinary details.
Altogether the show joyously revels in the extraordinary nature of our ordinary humanness– we all live a “placed,” embodied existence, one where the given aesthetic generosity of the world around continually beckons us to pay attention. It’s as if we’re constantly being gently invited away from presumptions of futility and toward open-handedly receiving that which is. And “that which is” is by no means insignificant, sometimes we just need folks like Jennifer to give us fresh eyes to see clearly.
Extra in the Ordinary is available for viewing at Shockoe Artspace until Sunday, November 20.