Outside the Frame, Outside the Lines

Karen Rhebergen has sprung her batik paintings from their frames.

They hang at angles from the walls at Arts Underground, so light shines though them. The colours resound. They’re larger than much of her previous work, giving the artist’s commitment to a loose and gestural mark a wider field to play in.

Let me explain that a bit further: when you’re drawing, you can decide, there, I’ve got the line, and just rehearse it, darkening it, blending it or cleaning up the edge, d

epending on the style.

Or you can engage in a continuous process of seeing. So the first try, that’s close, but if you keep looking, and try again, yes that’s closer, and so on. It’s a way of feeling for the right place, feeling around in the dark of what you don’t see yet.

The latter process yields images that can be called “painterly”. There’s a humility and humanness to this kind of mark making.

Rhebergen keeps to that continuous seeking. This is part of what gives her portraits their tenderness.

Tomorrow contains many good examples of this, though they abound. There are a couple of areas that indicate the placement of the collarbones. One hasn’t been corrected to match the other; they’re both part of the process of seeing.

This painting is also monochromatic. Rhebergen has built up layers to reds and blacks. Some of the strongest pieces in the show are monochromatic. I think it’s because that way, the emphasis remains on her mark making.

I will build you a home is the title piece, and perhaps the strongest in the show. It’s the strongest use of a multi-coloured palette.

It depicts a girl building a ginger bread house. Rhebergen has somehow incorporated fine lines in the background, with stick figures and leaf patterns that pick up the pattern on the girl’s bracelet.

The two colours in the background, pink and dark green, seem to represent the two worlds she’s between: the child’s and the adult’s. She builds a house, but it’s a temporary house, a playhouse. Nevertheless the tension in her hands express both strength and ungainliness.

They’re wonderfully drawn, those hands. The gaily coloured circles that represent the candies she’s sticking to the roof with icing scatter down through the foreground.

In Places, a man sits, forearms resting on knees, one hand clasping the other, gazing directly at the viewer. You can almost feel the texture in his socks. He’s mostly contained by an imperfectly oval sphere – well done, a perfect oval would have been quite wrong – with the suggestion of other delineated spaces to the right and left of him.

Rose Hip Tea uses another irregular oval. In this one, a red oval encloses two older people. They are clearly a couple, with their closer arms around each other, facing outwards. They stand in a winter landscape, with snowy rosehips in the background. He wears slippers. Her ankles somehow express an old lady quality perfectly.

Go see them to see what I mean.

Their faces are very fine. His friendly blue eyes peer out from under the weight of years. Rhebergen has worked blue into their skin tones in a way that’s true to the painting, and excellent, though not representational. I applaud this use of colour, and urge Rhebergen to keep true to that part of her colour instinct.

In A very good day one boy holds two puppies in his lap. A smaller child wraps his arm around an adult dog’s head. In the distance, the landscape is pale. Just edges of blue in the sky, green in the spruces. Yellow dots the meadow.

In a couple of pieces – Lullabye is an example – Rhebergen does stylize her drawing somewhat. In this painting, a woman holding a baby seems to be standing in water, but her feet kind of taper off and disappear, instead of being suggested as the edge of water or as feet seen through water. These pieces don’t seem to be as strong to me. I know Rhebergen can do wonderful feet, and feet are so important in a painted figure – a close second to hands.

This is a wonderful show, and I urge you to go see it. Taking the work out of the frame and installing it like this gives the viewer an experience that’s not to be missed.

It’s a generous gesture, since it makes the artwork somewhat more difficult as an object for sale. It’s not as easy to take home and hang on a nail and Arts Underground doesn’t pay showing fees. Sales remain the artist’s only payment for the work and materials cost of creating the show.

I Will Build You a Home and other works continues until March 3 at Arts Underground.

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