Art with a little pop

BY TRACEY O’SHAUGHNESSY

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Ann Toebbe’s paintings look a bit like paper doll houses that have been pulled apart. The walls lay on their sides. The windows sit flat against the canvas.

Christmas trees, kitchen tables, con­soles, end tables and quilts press against planes like vinyl Colorforms sheets.

These are interior worlds pried open and pulled back, revealing compressed versions of middle America.

Here is the diamond-shaped quilt, hanging on the wrought-iron railing.

There is the Madonna statue, presiding over a baby blue rug and oval ottoman.

Here sits the finely articulated linen tablecloth draped over a long, oak din­ing room table. Just adjacent — and up­side down — a china closet presses into the seafoam green walls. The plates on display are etched in teal blue triangles, which match the awaiting canister vacu­um in the corner.

This whole scene is a mastery of per­spective and color. It is as if someone has taken a cookie cutter to the midsec­tion of middle America and pressed firmly, revealing patterns that are up­side down but firmly in place, razed into a colorful geometric puzzle of shapes and colors.

Toebbe’s work is part of “The Shape of Things,” a group show at a new pop­up gallery in Cobble Court in Litchfield through Aug. 2. Toebbe shares the spot­light with Bryan Stryeski, Kim Sobel and Jessica Jane, all contemporary artists under the auspices of LivWill Art. LivWill Art is the roving gallery and consultant/management company of 34­year-old Jennifer Terzian, who lives in Litchfield and Southern California. The pop-up gallery emerged from LivWill Art, a private art consultant business.

Terzian, a UCLA art history graduate who received a master’s degree in post­war contemporary art, had the idea for the temporary gallery last April when she noticed the space on Cobble Court was empty. The pop-up move began as a way to turn vacant spaces into tempo­rary, often one-of-a-kind items. For Terzian, who spent five years as direc­tor of Marc Selwyn Fine Arts in Los An­geles, it was a way to showcase artists whom she supported. “What inspired me was that I really believe in these artists,” says Terzian, a tall, slender mother of two. “I’ve been following Ann Toebbe’s work for years and I wanted to do something with her and these other artists.”

The art is arranged loosely — and too preciously — under the theme of the “abstract exterior representation of anxiety, impulse and spontaneity against the restrictions of interior land­scape,” which Terzian calls “a reflection of the order and structure we long for, but also fear.”

The latter is most evident in Toebbe’s work, detailed interiors of vibrant colors and meticulously executed shapes.

These are homes we have been in — the curio cabinets with the rustic pull-han­dles, the oak chairs with the linen doily, the knick-knacks and baking canisters that rim the kitchen backsplash. Toebbe has fashioned these austere, heavily dusted, immaculate domestic interiors into placemat-like shapes. She is looking at the effects of domestic labor — just how did these kitchens get so clean? — which give her paintings a feminist edge.

The vacuum in the corner of “Vacu­uming the Carpet,” gives a hint of the work that underscores the eventual fam­ily meal. That the laborer is intended to be female is clear. That she is not pic­tured is part of Toebbe’s message. And when a woman is pictured, as in “Fried Donuts,” the image is clearly an homage to unacknowledged domestic effort.

In “Fried Donuts,” a woman, with her back to the viewer, transfers a frying pan of hot doughnuts onto the counter.

The steam from the doughnuts wafts up­ward in a series of origami-like gray­blue triangles. The woman is a mass of industrial-size gray curls, her dress a vivid geometric quilt puzzle that match­es the curtains over the sink and the dish cloth hung over the cabinet.

It is all of a piece, Toebbe seems to be saying — the heat from the doughnuts, the hand-made curtains, the woman’s dress. This is a life that can be folded up and set in a cedar trunk, just like the people responsible for it.

Sobel’s work is more abstract and ex­pressive, violent swirls of deeply hued lavenders and teals that swirl in whorls of whip-like agitation. It is in conversa­tion with Stryeski’s engrossing, kinetic works. In work that recalls Brice Mar­den, Stryeski creates pastures of veiny color, interspersed with tiny dotted highways or lightly articulated grids.

His color composition is highly refined and many of his works look alternately like the inside of a transistor or a city street map. These biomorphic, vaguely futuristic canvases are neither harsh nor chilling, but rather warm, inviting landscapes etched with musical divi­sions.

Finally, the spare, organic paintings of Jane may be the most understated but finely executed in the exhibit. In works like “Pink Forrest,” a pile of light pink oak leaf-like shapes repeat in variegated shades as they mount in a triangular clump. Jane has overlaid this image with light, translucent orbs that give the work a perplexing kind of meter. Here and elsewhere, her art is about pattern, repetition and precision, the kind of jumble that can bring a viewer peace.