At the the New Haven Free Public Library’s temporary art exhibition space on the first floor, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe‘s first solo show anywhere landed with authority: big canvases, jubilant color, and the appreciation of one outspoken member of the public, who declared the 24 oil and mixed-media canvases and panels “very primordial, Leviathan-ish, with a dash of humanism.”
The show runs during the library’s regular hours through April 18.
Whittaker-Doe (pictured) said friends warned her that many of her large canvases might appear too crowded on the temporary, movable fabric panels, which the library is using while the downstairs exhibition area gets renovated. People told her that her big works, vibrating with color and visual shifts, needed what she paraphrased as “breathing room.”
It turned out not to be so. When she walked in to see the show that curator Johnes Ruta had put together, “I was astonished how the work was handling it,” she said.
One visitor, Michael Wichman, certainly agreed. As he stood in front of “A Place To Dwell,” a large oil and mixed-media on paper work, Wichman said, “It looks like a giant, prehistoric monster, or an iceberg.”
He took a step back and then was evoking memories of Japanese horror films. “This is going to trample Tokyo,” he said.
Then he took another step back and pointed to a part of the picture where he saw a woman, or at least a figure in outline. Wichman didn’t venture to connect the two experiences when Ruta came over and offered a curatorial explanation.
“If you have a piece like that on the wall for ten years, it’ll look different each time,” he said.
That oscillation between representation — monsters or forests or landscapes — and abstraction is what drew Ruta to Whittaker-Doe’s compositions. He termed the artist’s work “a merging of landscapes and psychic aspects” that have the effect of a kind of visual hypnosis.
No wonder Ruta gave Whittaker-Doe, who has had many group appearances in her Brooklyn-area art world and elsewhere, her first solo New Haven and world debut.
Whittaker-Doe told one viewer that she leaves paintings hanging for long periods of time, if necessary, until the pieces fit together.
“Sometimes I recognize a landscape, but it’s not [supposed] to be there. Only after it sits for a while that I understand where it wants to be,” she explained.
Wichman had enjoyed the show thoroughly. Such experiences, he said, are one reason he’s moving from Clinton to New Haven in the months ahead.
“For the culture,” he said. Like the work of Whittaker-Doe.