Take it personal
Jessica White, Michelle Laxalt and Lee Stokes
In Jessica White’s oil paintings, the subjects, usually women, are often depicted looking straight toward the viewer, with glum expressions, like they’re uncomfortable, trapped in the sterile domestic scenes depicted on the canvas—or trapped in the paintings themselves. The paintings are meticulous, with tightly controlled lines, deliberate compositions and carefully balanced, muted colors. They almost look more like airbrushed illustrations than oil paintings.
“Initially, when I first started painting, I was really sad that I couldn’t seem to achieve that painterly quality, but once I realized it was because I wanted to have control over the subjects, I just embraced it,” said White.
She’s one of three artists currently showing their Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibitions at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Student Galleries South. The other two artists are sculptors Michelle Laxalt and Lee Stokes.
White’s exhibition is titled Comfort is Control, and it explores control—specifically the issue of control between artists and subjects. In the paintings, the control is in the hands of the painters, where it’s expected to be. She controls the brush. But for the second half of her exhibition, White made small brush-and-ink drawings based on other people's self-portraits submitted to a website she set up. The drawings have the same meticulous linework as her paintings, but the compositions and subjects are like the “selfie” photos that often clutter social media. She solicited for submission on social media and through fliers distributed on campus. Some of the subjects are people she doesn’t know. For White, giving up some control of composition and subject allowed her to happily move out of her comfort zone as an artist.
Across the gallery from White’s work is Laxalt’s Give and Take, an exhibition of sculptures that are primarily ceramic. The sculptures depict small, feminine—though vaguely androgynous—figures of indeterminate age. One sculpture, the proverbial title cut, “Give and Take (Breath-Catchers and Memories),” depicts a figure dragging a net full of star-shaped ceramic pieces. The ceramic stars are cast from origami stars made partially by blowing breath into the paper forms.
“I like to say that it’s like fortified breath, because in order to make these forms inflate you have to breathe into them,” said Laxalt. “I find that really romantic. That’s why they’re called breath-catchers.”
Scattered around the figure are white objects—Laxalt calls them “nebulous, ambiguous entities”—that look like either marble boulders or wads of crumpled paper. They could be substantive or fragile. For Laxalt, these entities represent memories.
Deeper into the gallery, partly removed from the other two exhibitions, is Light Caught Bending, Stokes’ exhibition. The exhibition is right on the line between a collection of standalone sculptures and a fully immersive installation. There are a half-dozen or so pod-like shapes, each hung from the ceiling, many of the connected to one another by umbilical cord-like ropes. Each is made from a variety of materials—glass, metal and plastics. Each is unique—some seem like giant cocoons from a science fiction movie. One is like a lonely lighthouse lantern. They almost seem like eggs, fragile yet powerful.
There’s only one external light on in the gallery and the sculptures themselves are electric and emit a faint glow, like life developing inside. Deep in the gallery space, with the low lighting, the environment is intimate and hushed, like a nursery or a womb.
“We all find common ground in that we are reflecting on personal and autobiographical experiences, and we’re all doing with figuration and femininity in very distinct and independent ways,” said Laxalt.