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Julia Jacquetta@Pinnacle Gallery through Aug. 10
A detail of one of Jacquett’s rooms

Jacquette’s series “My Houses” shows us interiors that she claims to desire. These are rooms – dining, living and bath – replete with curtains, chandeliers and heavy, wooden, stuffed furniture. They look like photographs of hotel rooms, empty of people, but curiously haunted by the presence (desire) of the artist.

Interiors are expected to be inviting. But Jacquette has a critique of materialist consumption which forces her to show us these fabulous interiors as merely empty appearance, stage sets, impersonal hotel foyers waiting for the passer-by. Yet their evident bad taste is part of their attraction for her. The viewer is very aware of the artist working close to these painting with a fine brush, perhaps armed with a maulstick, used by painters to steady the hand. She is using European realist painting conventions that go back 500 years. But while she is referencing reality, based either on photographs or sketches from life, her imagination takes over in the process of painting. To put it another way, in photorealism, the painter eschews all of his own presence in the work and is generally only concerned with reproducing a surface of a photograph that he, more often than not, has no personal attachment to. Here, however, the painter is closer to some Surrealist painting – Magritte comes immediately to mind - where a skillful technique does not mean an abandonment of a personal vision .In her artist statement, Jacquette talks about her subject matter – the luxurious interiors we see in magazines, which are there to tempt us to a lifestyle perhaps beyond us – and explains her interest in that subject matter – a modernist architect father who abhorred all such displays of crass glamour and wealth. But the content here, a result of the painter’s absorption in her subject, is the reflections from the surfaces of things: mirrors, chandeliers, glass vases and decanters, windows, the water in the swimming pool and lake beyond, and metal fittings in the light fixtures. Even the draperies and the palm fronds and flowers in a vase take on an eerie metallic quality. In the world of Jacquette’s desired houses, everything has a crisp, hard edge. I see the interest in her work lying in the contradiction between the artist’s intensity in the act of painting and designing the composition, versus the banality of the subject matter. For example, in “Dining Room with Glass Chandelier and Paper Whites”, we are drawn to the peculiar cropping that results in a sliver of drapery on the left edge. And in “Dining Room with Chandelier”, the bottom of the chandelier is just appearing at the very top of the picture plane, and is quoted by the tips of candles which we read as standing in a candelabra fallen out of view at the bottom. The strangest compositions occur in two of the three watercolors here (the others are in oil). I cannot read what is going on in “Chintz Couches and Coffee Table with Roses.” There seems to be furniture on different levels of flooring – a mirror image somewhere? And in “Rose and Carafe on Bedside Table”, everything seems to be slipping to the left, the carafe in imminent danger. Jacquette’s achievement here is to subvert the usual message of this subject matter – ostentatious living – through the human activity of painting, itself. As “lifestyle” remains an image of life, static and reverberating through the mere repetition of itself, painting is a fully living thing, dependent on the human hand, eye and consciousness.

The Pinnacle Gallery is at 320 E. Liberty St.

Bertha Husband is a native of Scotland and a painter who graduated from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been writring art criticism for over 20 years in publications that include Chicago Reader, Art Papers, Third Text and Left Curve.