Inspired by her mother, the late painter and printmaker Beth Lea Clardy, Fort Worth’s Ann Ekstrom has spent most of her professional life reconstituting trinkets, jewelry, and toys into quietly extravagant paintings. Her new solo show at Artspace 111, Plastic Nature, may appear sentimental and bourgeois –– there are lots of flowers and baubles –– but any suggestion of dishonesty or gratuitousness is rendered moot by the power of her brush.
Ekstrom, like fellow Fort Worth photorealists Daniel Blagg, Dennis Blagg, Nancy Lamb, and John Hartley, is a painter’s painter. A graduate of Texas Christian University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Ekstrom was trained in a traditional Renaissance painting method: From a transparent “under-painting,” she begins layering in grays, working up the “dead color” of the painting before adding color and glazes. Her intense approach can sometimes result in nearly 15 layers of paint on one canvas. The results are rich and sumptuous enough to eat.
Plastic Nature’s signature piece is “Hazzie Lea’s Button Box,” a collection of 26 tondos or circular canvases of various shapes flowing like blown dandelion seeds across the gallery walls. With the exception of a brown spider emblem and a gold rocking horse, each tondo contains a floral image: One looks like a red starfish, another like a white sea anemone, another like a kaleidoscope. The movement implied by the layout of the pieces and the spinning, rotating nature of the pieces themselves are mesmerizing, like standing in front of a lively aquarium.
Ekstrom’s paintings of trinkets have some welcome edginess, courtesy of their surreal essences. Looking at one is like peeking into God’s junk drawer (if God were a ’40s-era Hollywood starlet). In the $10,000 canvas “Holiday Travel,” translucent birds lie atop floral prints, with the middle of the painting devoted to a wavy, satiny blue; the rest prettied up here and there by red, green, pink, and maroon leaves.
Ekstrom’s unadorned floral canvases –– large bouquets share space with arty monochromes –– aren’t nearly as intoxicating as her trinket paintings but have a solemn presence that’s almost spiritual.
Artspace 111’s next show will be by Hartley, another master photorealist painter obsessed with commercial ephemera.
Ann Ekstrom: Plastic Nature
Thru Oct 12 at Artspace 111, 111 Hampton St, FW. Free. 817-692-3228.