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Review by Saritha Ramakrishna
Solei, "God Goal" (2018) Image courtesy of the artist
We often conceptualize time as two dimensional, easily serrated into pasts, presents and planned futures. It’s the running x-axis of some line graph, progress as we understand it to be: discrete and marked by the harried movements that make up the textured surface of a life. Solei’s “Trace” provides a soft foil to such notions, portraying the everyday and the histories beneath it as bubbling and psychedelic, lurid and blooming. Solei, or Emma Leavitt and I have known each other nearly two years now. Her warmth and determined energy manifests itself throughout the Piano Craft Gallery. On opening night, she’s dressed in yellow, moving between a milieu of old friends and new attendees, catching the light of the lamps placed around the space.
“Trace” relies on cloudy abstraction, splattered and diluted paint that transforms the surface of everyday materials. The effect is a saturated spontaneity, something between the permanence of the solid organic and the dissipation of water vapor. This fluidity is product of meditative repetition.
In describing this action, she highlights, “When I make a splatter, it takes a millisecond. The time in which I have control over what happens is virtually nonexistent. And then I leave the room and let evaporation happen on its own course. When I trace the splatter, it is a very careful, deliberate methodical and time consuming process. For me personally I think it is very important to experience these two very different processes of creation, and have them valued equally and encompassed in one painting.” Her work pulls at the seams of elemental polarities, movement and stillness, serenity and chaos. It is all flexible in her capable hands.
Solei, “Tide Up” (2018) Image Courtesy of the artist
The process is suspended in action and reaction, a sequent occupancy of sorts. Process is important to the physicality of production, but also functions as a mechanism of grounding.
“Because every time you return to the same process, the process is the same but you are changed because we are changing every day. So there are always new insights coming out of it. It’s almost like a science experiment where the process is the constant and you are the variable,” she describes.
The splatters and traces manifest themselves across different moods, providing a colorful guide to the the figures and subjects included in the exhibition. “Tide Up” for example, is nearly gelatinous, coated in hues of red, purple, and blue. Together, the colors run into each other to produce the effect of alien landscape. However, in “God Goal” they cast the subject as cosmic and ecstatic, adding swirled texture to the portraiture. Whereas, “Virtue Blues” is more moody and ruminating, casting a hued shadow over a white dove.
Solei, “Virture Blue” (2018) Image Courtesy of the artist
By using the splatters as a form of obstruction. Solei presents a sublime display of figures and faces. The images harken a “once was” notion of the mid-century, showing idealized and perhaps fantasized visions of life. Rather than opposition, we get what’s underneath static image, percolated affect, what bleeds out from underneath memory or happenstance. It’s sensory continuity, a flowering awareness.
Solei’s attention to materiality adds additional dimension to this process. Plastic detritus is transformed into a curtain of the otherworldly, a monopoly board is unfolded and gilded. She also uses LP cases and other recycled material; new life sprouts from the archival.
Solei, Installation View (2018) Image courtesy of the artist and Piano Craft Gallery
Solei is a prolific artist, musician, and arts activist in the Boston DIY community. She performs both as a solo artist and in her band, Atlas Lab. Her practice relies on deep appreciation of New England’s art community. I caught up with her after the opening to learn a little bit more about her process and the practice behind her immersive installation.
She shared that, “The value that is applied to art is very much a social construction, which is not to say that it is “not real” or that art is not objectively valuable, but it is something that has to be grown alongside your art creation. And there is a certain amount of self promotion that has to happen as an artist but I have found that actually 90% of it is just knowing the other artists (and non-artists too) around you and caring about their work and supporting them and giving them opportunities. And that circles back around as inspiration and support for your own work. And knowing I have the support of that community makes me more confident to keep pursuing my work and keep trying to make cool things happen.”
Her gift is in the ability to create and transform, but also in a simple ability to see, the potentials in figures and objects, the kinetic energy trapped in objects and shared histories. The same might be said for her understanding of the places and people that make up her community. Solei’s work provides a way out of 21st Century disposability, a world stacked up with repurposed impulses, images, and sentiments. She allows experiences and their echoes to pool together in golds and soothing tones. Solei sees this layered world and its tensions not for exhausting catalogue or demarcation, but for communal reverence.
“Trace” will be on view until 3/25 at the Piano Craft Gallery. On Saturday March 24th, Solei has curated a closing reception, featuring piano performances in homage to the gallery space. Find more information here.