Amour Rouge is half polished advertisement, half carnival-fence peep show. On a plank of white-streaked wood studded with nails, the solemn white letters of its title frame a pair of deep-red velvet curtains. The left drape is pulled back to reveal…a field of crimson.
There used to be something else behind the curtain. “It was a totally different painting at one point,” says D.C. artist Jamie Wimberly, who altered Amour Rouge about a year ago. “I used to paint lots of nudes.” Figuresor parts of figuresframed by found objects and mandalalike patterns used to be a hallmark of his mixed-media works.
“The figure is captivating,” notes Wimberly, “but it’s also limiting. People had an immediate reaction to it. It didn’t bring the mysterythe thinkingI wanted. People were so focused on the figure that it hindered my development in terms of the entire spacemaking…an integrated whole.” So now the viewer must look within the red fieldor the entire compositionfor meaning.
Amour Rouge, the earliest work in Wimberly’s Foundry Gallery exhibit, “The Box Icon Series,” marks a turning point in his subject matter. From the relatively straight stormscape of Ohio to the swirling text on wood grain of Humming, the 10 other mixed-media works on display include long, narrow, meticulously crafted black wooden boxes suspended on painted wooden surfaces, as well as an installation comprising 21 boxes suspended from the ceiling. Unlike constructivist/realist sculptor Joseph Cornell, an obvious influence, Wimberly doesn’t put things in boxeshe puts boxes in things.
“The nice thing about a box…it has figurative elements,” says Wimberly. “But it is very ambiguousopen to your interpretation of what that box means.” At the exhibit’s June 22 opening, people suggested “keyholes, coffins, vaginas, portals, [and] wardrobes.” A childhood fan of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Wimberly likes the wardrobe-as-portal idea, but he’s also quite taken with the image of the dark monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which “replicated itselfreflected light and yet sent out messagesinteracting with the universe.”
Although Wimberly suggests many interpretations for his work, he alludes only obliquely to an obvious theme: determinism and fate. The boxes, and what’s around them, often suggest the inevitable patterns of the universe to which humanity must submit. In the triptych We Three Kings (“Someone wanted to buy just one of these!” says Wimberly incredulously, brushing a cobweb from a corner of the center panel), the wooden strips along the borders of the left and right panels are arrayed in mirror-image symmetry, and the black-on-brown palette and panel sizes are identicalbut the heavily varnished wood grain, the occasional black smudges, and the crackled bronze paint that explodes behind the boxes suggest chaos under control. The goal, says Wimberly, was “at the same time, to make the pieces move and yet be stationary.” The panels suggest “having a fixed purposefollowing the star.”
Easter is even more obviously biblical: Encircling a burnt-umber-hearted box that suggests the cross of a crucified Jesus, smaller boxes that share a sunrise-hued background with domed circles cluster like confused disciples. Wimberly points to a solitary box in the lower left and identifies it as Judas.
“I’ve always felt that Judas got the worse end of the stick,” says Wimberly. “He was the fall guy; somebody had to be the traitor.” Pamela Murray Winters
“The Box Icon Series” is on view at the Foundry Gallery to Sunday, July 8. For more information, call (202) 338-1432.