CICERO GREATHOUSE: HYBRIDS and ARTIST IN RESIDENCE TWO: LEIGH TARENTINO
through Jan. 5, 2015 | Maitland Art Center, 231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland | 407-539-2181 | artandhistory.org | $3
A return to minimalism marks the fall season at the Art & History Museums – Maitland, giving Orlando art viewers a much-needed respite from chronic overstimulation as local artist Cicero Greathouse is paired with Leigh Tarentino of Providence, Rhode Island, on the walls of the Maitland Art Center. This museum, founded by Andre Smith in 1937, recently earned National Historic Landmark status, one of fewer than 3,000 places in America recognized for their contribution to the nation’s heritage. (Congratulations – and another visit to the classic Mayan Revival buildings and grounds, if it’s been awhile – are definitely in order; it’s the first National Historic Landmark in Orange County and one of just 44 in Florida.) It may be no coincidence that the Art Center, which once hosted luminaries of the early modern art movement, now exhibits two artists in the modernist experimental tradition.
Brown University professor Leigh Tarentino spent early January as an artist-in-residence at Maitland Art Center. Her panoramic iPhone photos, inspired by the meandering pathways of the A&H campus, are delightfully erratic. The iPhone images, coated with transparent colored inks, give the old Research Studio a fresh, almost hallucinatory feel. “On the Winding Path,” a series of four panels standing upright at the end of the gallery, invites the viewer into a sliced, mysterious world of broken yellow stones, vermilion doors and rainbow brick streets.
More exotic, perhaps, to Floridians is her “Memories of Snow” series. These paintings of moonlit suburban nights are, frankly, luscious and compelling. Her blacks, some old and some new, resonate with depth. Over the gallery’s fireplace hang two untitled acrylics: One, a silhouetted house resting on a moonlit, pearlescent swirl, simply transports the viewer. The other is a silhouetted pine outlined by a jittery, carved organic line that draws the eye into the night. Black, which modernist Ad Reinhardt dubbed the “ultimate” color, is Tarentino’s foreground and background, yet she achieves depth and texture in this compression of so little color. See these on a hot day and chill out.
Just as sublime are Cicero Greathouse’s Hybrids, which he made as a 2012 Maitland Art Center “Artist in Action” fellow. I spent a few minutes with Greathouse to learn about his new work, quite different from his huge, immersive color field paintings. Greathouse splits his time between Orlando and a studio he maintains in San Miguel de Allende, an artists colony in Mexico. “Yeah,” he said, “I was flattening boxes one day, so they would fit in the recycle bin, and started staring at the box all splayed out.” (You can do that, you know, if you are an Artist-in-Action with a studio at the Maitland Art Center. Yep, you can stare at a box if you want. All day long.) It’s what Greathouse did next that made the difference. “The shape,” he almost whispered to me, “was compelling. It was like – like a stone stele they find in the jungle in Mexico with carvings. I tried painting on it, then drawing on it, and finally decided to print it.”
So Greathouse coated a box with vivid paint, pressed it onto a piece of paper, and pulled the box off. The imprint is a stack of rectangles, highly textured, open in some places and dense in others. By turning the lowly cardboard box into a study of proportion, these “hybrids” – experiments, really – further the Research Studio tradition founded by artist Andre Smith in the 1930s. A humble, contemporary material flips the old temple-rubbing on its head with a language all its own.
So meditative are these works that one almost can’t return to the noisy world without a little tug of reluctance. Greathouse and Tarentino both take you to a place that the minimalists explored with effectiveness in the middle of the last century, a place rarely revisited in today’s in-your-face YouTube/Buzzfeed/TMZ culture. Sneak in some subtlety while you still can.