Ida Ekblad

-- Art Review by Donald Goddard

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installation View
Ida Ekblad
Fig. 1. Installation view, Greene Naftali, 2011
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Ekblad's work defines "abstraction" more directly and completely than most art in that it both "draws away" from and moves toward objective reality. Perhaps the most literal expression of this encompassing definition is her series of three steel and lacquered steel gates (fig. 1), each more than six feet high and eight feet wide, lined up in parallel so that one can view them and the world around them from one through the others.

Continued in the column to the right
The hybridization is real, not artificial. The rectangular shape of each gate is a traditional art space within which, and on top of which, are composed a variety of abstract configurations. But the gates can open, and then every shape can change, in itself and in relation to everything else. They are the entrance to something, or perhaps the exit from something. Their intense reality comes from the fact that the black, white, and gray configurations are made of scrap metal, the detritus of real objects that Ekblad has gathered and collected from the streets, but also from the possibility of our own projections, for instance that birds might come to perch on them and we can push them open ourselves. They frame and engage our entry into the world, from one ordered chaos into another.

There are four other sculptures in the exhibition, also made of lacquered steel fragments and each suggesting, however remotely or even misleadingly, a living creature-a red chicken or pheasant; a blue dog; a blue person (a woman?), or perhaps just a signal post of some kind; and a lighter blue, very thin, upright figure about the same height as the woman (five feet five), bent over about two-thirds of the way up and clinging sort of precariously to a yellow metal strip and a raglike metal strip (fig. 2). It is irresistible, and perhaps impossible, to identify with these things. These living things?

Ekblad Figure 2

Ida Ekblad
Fig. 2. Untitled, 2011
Steel and laquer
64 1/2 x 23 x 12 inches
163.8 x 58.4 x 30.5 cm
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

How much more complex our apprehensive empathies become while looking at Ekblad's paintings, all from 2011 in this exhibition. Images don't have to appear, but they do anyway. It is impossible for them not to be there, even if we don't always see them, or even if each of us sees something different. And once they are seen they may become something else. In an oil on linen (fig. 3) what appears to be the stern of a ship appears in the upper right center; a brown path leads from the lower right to the upper center into what could be mountains; a head in the lower left seems to be dreaming, while an eye or a breast appears at the top; a fish plunges downward in the upper left, while blue water streams from the upper right to the center (the shape also suggests a face and an arm). None of this is certain, but everything has the appearance of something vital in the journey through constant turmoil and collusions. It has the contradictions and collisions of dreams, which perhaps are always with us.

Ekblad Figure 3
Ida Ekblad
Fig. 3. Untitled, 2011
Oil on linen
35 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches
90.2 x 69.9 cm
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

A much larger oil on linen (fig. 4) has two levels of illusion. The superficial and initially dominating figuration is a continuous strip of green, yellow, and blue that follows an angular path around and into the two-dimensional rectangular surface of the painting, forming what might be taken to be the ground plan of a house or other building, a human habitation. Beneath this figuration is a white layer of paint like the fascia that connects skin to the living body it covers. As one moves closer that living body seems to emerge, with the surface figure receding in our reckoning. The underpainting is in broader, washy strokes, much bolder than the more deliberative strokes of the plan on the surface. It has the urgency of bright red blood and rushing blue waters, of an abstract landscape. Or a roiling seascape, with a gray whale in the upper left-hand corner and the open mouth of a fish in the upper right-hand corner that wants to devour everything in its path, just as arms seem to reach out in other places to embrace or grasp the world around them. It is impossible to say what is between the two levels, if anything, just that they exist together, somehow in the same picture. It challenges the meaning of words and thoughts, harmony and disharmony.
Ekblad Figure 4
Ida Ekblad
Fig. 4. Untitled, 2011
Oil on linen
78 3/4 x 63 x 1 3/8 inches
200 x 160 x 3.5 cm
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Ekblad's images force themselves on us, whether we are right or not that they are fish or water or birds or mountains. But the images are clearly, if torturously, identifiable in some cases, as in her watercolor with four red flowers and five blue fingers (fig. 5). The flowers rise on green stems in front of the hand with its mangled fingers and reddish-brown or orange fingernails. Hands and flowers come from different places below the edge of the painting, but they strangely and persistently intermingle, and the checkered black-and-white flag streaming out to the left may indicate some kind of recognition or accomplishment. It's an awkward celebration of nature and humanity, not quite glorious but close enough in the exercise of art.
Ekblad Figure 5
Ida Ekblad
Fig. 5. Untitled, 2011
Watercolor on paper
19 5/8 x 25 1/4 inches
49.8 x 64.1 cm
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Another watercolor (fig. 6) has on its left side what seems to me the figure of a woman in white seen from behind. Her black hair winds around a blue shape on her back, perhaps that of an animal head with its mouth open. On the right an upward movement of red passes above a green chair, turns downward slightly, and ends at the woman's head. Along the way it crosses over a black shape as though it were bowing it, like a cello or another stringed instrument. Turning her back on the turmoil of the world, on the viewer, is not a signal of denial but a kind of introspection about the nature of art, of music, in the face of this turmoil. And neither should art be a denial but rather a vessel and determined provider and compendium of life.

Donald Goddard 2011

Ekblad Figure 6
Ida Ekblad
Fig. 6. Untitled, 2011
watercolor on paper
26 x 30 3/4 inches
66 x 78.1 cm
Courtesy the Artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Ekblad's poem Gatekeeper Butterfly is printed on the Poster for her Exhibition.

Notice that this block of iron once was part of a mountain triumphing with
the force of chaos
A piece preserved, it became cause to be less, Stubborn Yes but
Imagine the rest of the face

A gate opens unto a strengthened defense
bare chested like a man
but not given access, only led through a narrow passage, sedate.
Gnawing with rusty teeth on a frieze with quails and peacocks pecking grapes

You are represented kneeling, your hands flat on my thighs, in an attitude
of reverence
Muted silver, spoon and stick in molds of muck
One must stand one's dusty ground, not stringent but strung out,
uncompromising like but still willing
Yielding, like incubating eggs in her mouth

Depress that old smooth rod, let it weigh, do blend do bronze its way,
through my gate
I push with force, submissive as bequeathed by a visceral change of course
You, miraculous bait, with a flower in your hand, bearing your palette
Palming my tomb in duet, your runes my alphabet

Ekblad's work seen at Greene Naftali, 508 W. 26th St., NY, NY 10001

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