The Zero Sum Game of Felicity Nove

11/24/2010 05:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Still, the mind smiles at its own rebellions
Knowing all the while that civilizations and the other evils
That make humanity ridiculous, remain Beautiful in the whole fabric, excesses that balance each other
Like the paired wings of a flying bird."
Robinson Jeffers, "Still the Mind Smiles"

Though not at first apparent, the work of Felicity Nove plays a zero sum game. The vertical, the gestural, and the mobile, respectively, balance out the horizontal, the geometric, and the static. Indeed, the surfaces of her canvases seem to roil with spillage, splats, and collisions. Forms seem to rip asunder. Together these elements seem to describe the aftermath of an aesthetic storm: grounds (pictorial and geographic) saturated by deluges and craggy mounds of accumulated paint battered by turbulent eddies. The pictorial tone may appear cataclysmic, even biblical, in its implications. The rectangular format frames these skirmishes, detonates them toward a virtual explosion, centrifugal and powerful. Each canvas gets its thrust from pictorial gravity -- the drips that create the downward compositional movement.

From the distance of time invested in experiencing each piece, however, these roiling surfaces, part of a larger aesthetic ecology, appear static, composed, and serene. Horizontal bands of barely differentiated color offset each paintcloud of downward plunging drips. A horizon line arrests each drip halfway down the canvas. Though the pictorial atmosphere may rock and roil, its geology is nonetheless balanced, symmetrical and structured. Each element, formal or art historical, exists in harmony. Quasi-figurative shapes that resemble the about-to-evaporate ephemerality of Francis Bacon's "Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" find its complement in the timeless structure of Hans Hoffmann's "Equinox." Each hurricane- flurry of J.M.W. Turner-esque painted light and mist is balanced by the lyrical playfulness of Joan Miro. And the Jackson Pollock-esque drips that skirt the picture plane stand in stark contrast to the saturated canvases of Helen Frankenthaler.

"Second Skin," 2010
72 x 60 inches
acrylic on canvas

Though the work seems to be based on poised oppositions - gestural/geometric, dynamic/static, horizontal/vertical - that animate each piece, what matters, though, is not its tension but its resolution: it's not either/or, it's both. Things are not set in opposition because, at an elementary level, the world is not set in oppositions. Contrasts so obvious at first eventually resolve into a unified whole. Their union structures the pictorial space and the disposition of the masses that inhabit it.

As a metaphor, the work offers a complete, unified, and organic experience, a portal (or a porthole) onto the process of its own creation. Stylistically this can be seen as the seamless synthesis of seemingly disparate influences. Theatrically this can be seen with shapes unveiled by a wash that works like a theatrical scrim to reveal robed figures and a diadem. (Think the Sturm und Drang of Shakespeare's King Lear). Biologically this can be seen by the intimation of microscopic forms on a Petri dish. And, meteorologically, this can be been seen in the endless cycle of weather (condensation, rain, evaporation). The work feels fresh and spontaneous; it has to, perpetual rejuvenation is embedded in its process of composition.

"Lear's Leap," 2010
72 x 60 inches
acrylic on canvas

As a primer of existence, the work offers a sense of fulfillment. All loose ends having been brought to a conclusion, the work becomes a complete experience. Once the tensions have been set up and resolved, the viewer realizes her singular place in what previously seemed to be a stormy irrational web of existence. As with an event horizon, defined as the one-way surface of a black hole, once you penetrate the surface of Nove's work, there is no turning back. A consoling prospect, this: the work reminds us that we too are part of something bigger, something that long preceded us and will continue long after we are gone. The viewer, having calibrated their formal and existential point of view, realizes, magnificently, the works' true gift: a perception of and understanding into the micro- and macro-universes and provision for the means with which to apprehend them.

This essay will be cross-posted in a catalogue published in conjunction with "Measure For Measure," a 2011 exhibition presented by the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University.