Jessica Battes' ceramic works quote underwater forms; Erin Stafford's paintings present pearls immersed in petroleum jelly. Both are recent MFA grads from UTSA, exhibiting together in the appropriately entitled exhibition "Submerged," on view at Tobin Hill's REM Gallery through September 7. Battes' works range from utilitarian pieces, such as Tetracoralla Bowl, incised with a pattern that recalls sea urchins, to small tabletop and wall-mounted sculptures that often incorporate soft feathers and contrasting darkly patinated cast bronze details. One of the smallest, but most forbidding pieces is Rogue Monomer, a tiny clay bowlette mounted on an undercarriage of bronze with sharp talon-like branches. Pointed bronze stalks appear in other (almost animate) works too, such as Vector, a largish work that successfully adds an undulating body of fabric. But not all Battes' pieces indulge in fantasy details. Actin Monomor, a cluster of simple bowl-like forms, also seems to image underwater life. But unadorned, attention is held by the bowl mouths of varying size that seem to pulse in fluid motion.
Citing the playful French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard as inspiration, Stafford has detached pearl necklaces from their usual role as feminine adornment and submerged them and other items of jewelry in sticky Vaseline. Painted in oil, surrounded by thrift store frames that attempt a Baroque effulgence of C-scrolls, her ornate paintings resemble blow-ups of details from Dutch still lifes of the 1600s, reveling in points of reflected light. As technical painting, the effects vary. The largest work, Lovely is a four letter word seems a mash-up of cabaret poster and hip-hop graphics, a flattened expanse of script and dry garden colors. But several pieces, such as Whiplash and Unmentionables, trick the eye with dark realism as motes of light neatly line up on the bright surface. And look again; there's motion captured here, too. The gooey pearls seem to wobble and bounce while other elements sit out the dance. What makes this show by two young artists most appealing isn't their investment in concepts, such as ecology on Battes' part, or Stafford's feminism, but the quickened exploration of a variety of techniques they both employ to express their musings.
Jessica Battes, Erin Stafford: Submerged
219 E Park
Reception 6-9pm Friday, August 10
On view through September 7