via Josepha Gutelius
Review by Lynn Woods, Hudson Valley Times, August 21, 2017
Josepha Gutelius, an award-winning poet and playwright who gave up writing to paint full-time in 2015, makes collage-like, disjunctive narratives in a figurative expressionist style that has echoes of German Expressionism and the punk sensibility of the 1980s. Neon pink, red, orange, yellow, blue and green are combined with graphic black to unseat expectations in large-scale scenes of family gatherings, groups of schoolchildren, and portraits. The glaring colors are often accompanied by intrusions of sci-fi-like elements. Areas of abstract patterns suggesting trippy hallucinations. A spiraling chaos of what looks like rubble, distant nebulae and rotating disks (tires? bangles? flying saucers?) below the image of a woman’s face suggest infra-red images and by extension top-secret maps and investigations by the military. It’s as though the artist is an interrogator unearthing the vertiginous fears, fantasies and queasy anxieties lurking just beneath the surface of society’s banal superficialities. Based on her own photos as well as images collected on-line and from newspapers, Gutelius’ investigations of notions of family and institutional life, class, war, religion, fashion, leisure, art, and other aspects of contemporary American culture undercut the sentimentalized or glamorized appearances characterizing such subjects in advertising and social media. While Pop appropriated from the techniques of commercialism, thus in a sense glorifying them, Gutelius portrays the seamy underbelly, the alienation, cruelties, vulnerabilities, and inhumanity underlying exploitations. The self, within such a culture, is a shaky construct, and commercialism’s hawked pleasures are delusional. In the painting Psychic Beach, for example, the crowded beach, viewed from above, as if from a drone, flatten the scene, depicting corpse-like sunbathers as tense, awkward, and uncomfortably exposed, their proximity to each other claustrophobic. “The most I can hope for is to make paintings that have some kind of presence, that startle, that aren’t just wall coverings,” writes Gutelius in an email, noting that “art is a commodity and famous art and artists are brands.” She describes her subject as “the half-told story, the precarious balance between knowing and not-knowing, where the physical and metaphysical are constantly intertwining.” Many of her scenes pivot between interior and psychological states to the public, technological and even cosmic. The work is cinematic in its abrupt juxtapositions. Besides film, Gutelius’s work also references art history, often ironically. In Vibrational Museum, a work in acrylic and colored pencil, a figure rests against a background covered in rows of narrow pink, yellow and gray rectangles. The piece could be read as an interpretation of a Agnes Martin painting onto which Gutelius, lampooning Modernist orthodoxy, has superimposed a figure, complete with shadow.