It’s Vanessa Prager versus art history in this confounding and enchanting suite of oil on panel paintings, and her aggressive Impressionism-infused impasto is a knockout. Taking on the foundational figurative tropes of nude, still life, and landscape but proceeding with an abstractionist and even actionist energy, Prager’s works defy the snapshot and demand physical interaction in the service of seeing. The paint is applied so thickly, rhythmically, and almost geologically that their surfaces and depths are inverted, their colors fractally mingled, and it requires an intentionality to resolve them in the eye.
The nudes are intriguing, particularly in that they invert a fairly sexist classical trope by making the image inaccessible to the gaze, male or otherwise. But the most beguiling works are the ones that riff off the natural world, both in floral still life or botanical landscape. Perhaps this is because in capturing tabletop bouquets and flowering fields, the references to art history broadly and Impressionism in particular are so overt. But it also might be because those works in themselves, in Prager’s inherent technique, resonate with the resplendent hyper-detailed, organic, fractal way flowers grow. Still Life, Cuttings, and especially the utterly charming Red Vase (all works 2020) additionally make excellent use of the table top as functional horizon line, setting up color field divisions and layers, each an opportunity for a palette shift while the surface remains uniformly geological.
Through the Poppies (diptych) is a bona fide color riot, each blossom a tiny abstraction, each shadow an echo of form as well as its own discrete pocket of dark matter. In the absolute masterpiece End of Time (diptych), with its rolling hillsides, pink, fleshy blossoms vying for the sun’s attention, the distant squares of gemstone blues generating a sky pock-marked with dabbed-in cloud, and all throughout a thick summer air with a palpable atmosphere fills the gently structured, convincing pictorial space like sparkling fog. The landscapes evoke florid nature without ever letting you forget you’re looking at a painting — more specifically, you’re looking at paint. All the paint. So much paint. It almost makes you giddy.