The Colors of Existence

The following article by Lynn Woods appeared in the Kingston Times, July 8, 2010 and the New Paltz Times, July 15, 2010

Stacie Flint’s frenzied depictions of modern life

The recent show of Stacie Flint’s oil paintings at Donskoj & Co. gallery was a jolt of color and jumbled forms, in which women, kids, dogs, and cats cavort at home or on the street amid a chaos of ringing cell phones, buzzing hair dryers, and urban traffic.

The bright hues and irrepressible energy of these medium and small-sized canvases signify a joyful celebration of life, seen though a closer look reveals some subtle schisms: the people in Flint’s paintings never quite connect. Each personage seems caught up in her own drama of distraction, surrounded by the props of cell phones and other ubiquitous gadgets.

“Everybody’s in their own world,” said Flint. “I can’t make people look at each other.” The pets – which Flint paints with an innate sympathy, masterfully capturing in her fluid line the animals’ leonine grace – are always, true to life, in the middle of things, yet their obstinate demand for affection is definitely a domestic scenes.

Stacie in StudioFlint’s flat, cartoon-like style, in which the set pieces of windows, tables, and doors are as animated and full of character as the humans, is part of r. Crumb and dr. Seuss; its chromatics and nervous line hark back to the fauves and its subject matter to those masters of domestic life, Matisse and Bonnard. (Flint also cites David Hockney and Alice Neel as favorite painters, while stopping short of calling them influences.) But the extreme style of the works can’t hide the fact that they are about the tensions and pleasures of ordinary suburban life, and one recognizes many details that ring true.

For example, the black cat self-consciously plopped down on a magazine, which the woman seated at the table is trying to read, in In the Orange Room, echoes the battle this writer has with her own feline every morning in attempting to read the paper. (Something about the cat’s pose indicates it knows its being bad, but nonetheless won’t budge until forced.) The small round table with the glass and plate of food, the curtained window with the sunny view of blue hills, the tropical plant in the large pot in the corner of the room all capture the day-to-day pleasures of bourgeois life, in which we are all enmeshed. I don’t have a lime green top like the woman in the painting, and my dining rooms walls are gray olive green rather than orange, yet the self-indulgent niceties depicted in the painting are completely recognizable, heated up a few degrees.

Flint, who grew up on Long Island and attended SUNY New Paltz, says her suburban theme reflects the fact that, while many of us live in rural or semi urban areas, the car-based, the lifestyle is inescapable. “I live in New Paltz, but it’s not rural anymore,” Flint Noted. “Most of the people who live here are from Long Island and New Jersey. It’s all imported suburbia. Her busy households, complete with TV, kids, toys, animals, and car in the driveway, reflect her experience as a housewife raising kids in the early 1980s, doing laundry, eating out in restaurants, getting together with woman friends.

Life affirmed

She avoids the stereotype of suburbia as vapid and full of quiet despair; on the contrary, the works are affirming and forgiving. The disheveled women standing in these kitchens or collapsed on the sofa or comfy chair, one shoe off, chatting on the phone, cats sparring and kid out of control are sympathetic figures. They occupy the centers of social vortexes, their isolation like the eye of a joyous hurricane, surrounded by the trappings of relative affluence. The abundance of this milieu, not its lack, are celebrated, and even when Flint is depicting the culture of envy – most obviously in her New York series; in one work, diners at Dean & Delucca ogle a svelte society woman slinking past with her small dog – it’s the stuff of comedy.

“I can’t make two things that are the same,” Flint said, noting that she paints her pairs of eyes, legs and feet in different colors. “I also very rarely make the hair the color it would be. I break the rules.” The titles sometimes underline the sly subversive quality of the narratives, such as Cake Before Dinner (a barefoot woman pulls on a curtain and holds a forkful of cake in front of a photo of presumably proper relatives) and Constant Companion (a woman brushing her teeth is accompanied by a dog, cat on the window sill, and singing bird out the window.)

Flint has had numerous shows in the area also does commissioned portraits. A painting of hers is included in the forthcoming book How to Paint a Donkey, complied by Scotswoman Louise Greig, who commissioned 52 artists from around the world to illustrate the poem of the same name by Arab/American writer Naomi Shihab Nye. Besides the solo show of 14 pieces at Donskoj, she also has shown pieces recently at the Tivoli Co-op, Varga Gallery in Woodstock, the Woodstock Artists Association Museum, and Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie. In July, she is participating in a show at the Pritzker Gallery in Highland and her work will be displayed at the Millbrook Winery Show, sponsored by the Dutchess County Arts Association.

The artist also commissioned to do a painting by HITS-on-the-Hudson, which is featured in the Saugerties organization’s upcoming Arts Exhibition and Auction. Closer to home, one can see five large canvases of Flint’s at the Ulster County Area Transit building on Golden Hill. She was one of the four artist selected by UCAT to create art for the new building, which was funded by a federal grant exclusively targeted for the creation of public art.

The paintings, which are hung in the conference room, depict the UCAT dispatchers and mechanics, as well as passengers boarding a UCAT bus and can outfitted for people with disabilities (several of the personages, including a blind man with a purple dog, are real people.) The other commissioned works are also well worth a look. In a corner of the lobby is a wonderful black metal sculpture, with uses silhouettes and empty space to suggest scenes, depicting different modes of transit by the late Diana Bryan. Housed in a special oak cabinet, with a light to highlight the shapes Bryan cut out of the flat piece of metal, the piece has three narrative lines: the uppermost a series of silhouetted planes, cloud, hot-air balloon, and bridge against the sky, the middle consisting of cars, trucks and other road-bound vehicles, and the bottom showing a ferry boat, raccoon, kayaker, grass, rabbit, and hills dotted with houses against empty space, which here represents water.

Also in the lobby is a large photograph of elderly UCAT bus rider Carol Cruikshank, who became ordained as a pastor at the Dutch reformed Church at the age of 70, by Fawn Potash. Handsomely displayed in a solid black frame, the photo has a collage like composition, with the sign for the Astoria hotel in Rosendale, where Cruikshank lived, visible in the background outside the bus window. Potash’s photos of four other regular bus passengers, with items indicating their occupations displayed in the scrim above their heads, hang in a hall upstairs. Colorful, sign-like paintings showing transit modes in the 1800s, 1900s and the 2000s by Franc Palaia, who also designed the exterior sign (camouflaging as a bus), complete the collection.

The works are a county treasure, showcasing the diverse talents of a few local artists who have transformed the seemingly ho-hum works of whimsy and made the ordinary circuits of citizens into something grand and monumental. Check it out.

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