When I was newly a mother, I loved to sit my infant son (who, incidentally, my grandmother called a child-man) on my lap facing out toward the world. I would gaze endlessly at the back of his bald little head, captured by a strange fascination for its soft round vulnerability, its future metaphoric potential and its present new internal rhythms composed from the sorting of stimuli.
That particular odd memory is the thing that rushes from some cranial corner and compels me to love Emily Eveleth's set of paintings presented at Reynolds Gallery.
When Eveleth is not painting her other obsession, doughnuts, she tends to paint solitary men, often middle-aged, always viewed from behind. The latter is a strategy that Caspar David Friederick also employed, placing his 19th-century (youthful) protagonist alone on a distant knoll looking away from us to face his manhood.
But unlike Friederick, Eveleth offers no descriptions as to what her men are called to observe. She replaces the vast and untamed romantic scenery with a vacant field of gorgeous, darkly illuminated, painterly atmosphere. In the hazy nothingness, every possibility suspends commingled. It summons and/or torments their souls more acutely than a perilous ravine ever could. Reading the terrible dilemma in the posture of her male studies, one comes to feel that their ambiguous challenges are more consuming, more terrifying and decidedly less glorious than a mere trek over the Alps or voyage across a tempestuous sea.
One wishes to reach easily to the shoulders of these men, to comfort and assure. To promise a satisfying outcome. But Eveleth thwarts that impulse, even while giving us our compassion for her subjects. The moral of her story is secured beyond all efforts to alter it. Isolation, the human search for honor and righteousness, and the inevitable desire for things beyond the horizon are hermetically sealed in the varnish layer. Theirs is a sole proprietorship.
When I look at these gentle paintings of grown men and then return to thinking about my baby son, now grown, I sense the huge heaviness of life in a conscious society, the prerequisite uncertainty that separateness either paints as mountain ranges or miasma, and Eveleth's infra-postmodern pietas fill me with a searing humanity. I consider that to be a momentous achievement of art occurring unselfconsciously to offer a familiar glimpse of a substantially greater imagination than one previously understood to belong to oneself.
Paintings by Emily Eveleth at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St., shows through Feb. 9. 355-6553
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.