City Paper is not for tourists
For better or worse, Irvine Contemporary has established itself as the regional source for new surrealist painting, with about half of its artists stable fitting that bill. Technically speaking, Heidi Taillefer is a cut above the rest. Her fanciful figurative paintings revel in exquisite detail work. Yet there’s no thematic common ground to be found among paintings that cite antiquity and epic poetry but also invoke the occasional cheap pun. Paternity Suit, for example, portrays a hollowed-out mechanical hen stuffed with eggs, whereas Dante and Beatrice responds to a higher calling. It isn’t the muddling of high- and lowbrow in her art that’s startling—it’s the enthusiastic embrace of all of surrealism’s most familiar, and tired, tropes. Clockwork animals should be forever banned from the vocabulary of new painting, no matter how lovingly rendered the gears. A cat that appears to be made up of rain fulfills the elemental-transformation requirement. Granted, Taillefer’s take on cyborg imagery is novel. Mercury Rising shows a nude white male figure donning a fanciful helmet of Hermes. Featuring wings, horns, and other bells and whistles, the helmet looks as if it were sculpted from gold corral. Odder elements, like the chambered nautiluses nested over the ear flap or the (somewhat awkwardly laid) gold leafing in Mercury Rising, suggest divergent influences: as if Taillefer were thinking H.R. Giger but looking at Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. But it’s standard, surrealist, cyborg/human fanfare, through and through, and the technical achievements hardly make up for the fundamental lack of painterly imagination. The exhibition is on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays to Saturday, May 10, at Irvine Contemporary, 1412 14th St. NW. Free. 202-332-8767.