reviewed by Kathryn Pearce
Monstera deliciosa is the vividly descriptive species name for the plant that populates much of Patrick Puckett’s latest work at Wally Workman Gallery. Visually specific and iconic within the verdant realm, the Monstera has been appropriated by design, art and fashion for its evocative heart-shaped, deep green leaves with swiss cheese like perforations. Henri Matisse was particularly fond of the foliage, situating it in his studio as well as depicting it in many works, most notably in his cutouts series. Inspired by the prolific French artist and his Fauvist style, Puckett utilizes monsteras in his art and elevates their status from mere houseplant to featured subject in the picture plane. At times, the fauna plays a supporting actor in the work, while at other instances it completely invades the sitter’s space, greedily taking the leading role.
Like the Monstera plant, the figures invade our space…
The name Monstera is derived from the word monstrous, and the plant comes by its name honestly: they can grow over nine feet tall and have become a mildly invasive species in certain areas of the world. In his painting “Monstera,” Puckett depicts a female figure straightforward, while boldly posed around her are the leaves painted in lurid hues. By using the characteristic silhouette of the plant, the artist eliminates any unnecessary details and fills the form with saturated pools of green, aqua and purple. Pushing their way from the background to the foreground and surging with primal energy, the monsteras loom over the placid sitter. Slowly encroaching upon the woman, one greenish-turquoise frond begins to obscure her forehead, while an aubergine leaf nestles at her cheek, ready to consume her, like kudzu devours an abandoned building.
Not all monsteras in Puckett’s works are similar to the demented plant in the campy film Little Shop of Horrors. Rather, in “Menken and Maas,” they are shown as luscious, even sensual additions to the confident, seated, figure who seems to command power over the exuberantly freewheeling plants. The monsteras careen about the canvas with colors that bleed into one another, producing a strikingly trippy, layered effect. Differing in style from other works in the show, “Menken and Maas” is painted looser, with drips and drabs of color that stain the surface, making it one of Puckett’s more expressionistic pieces. Based on the avant-garde filmmaker and bon vivant Marie Menken (the inspiration for the main character in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), the woman exudes a nonchalant but disheveled charm.
At times, the fauna plays a supporting actor in the work, while at other instances it completely invades the sitter’s space, greedily taking the leading role.
Puckett’s use of color is a tour de force—masterfully combining potently vibrant hues in unexpected variations is his true calling card. In this series of works, he deploys the color red not only as a background color, but also as a skin tone. Red is a color of extremes, a deeply emotive and a symbolically rich hue that evokes feelings of passion, anger and excess. The artist achieves this lambent quality in each work by painting a base coat of canary yellow and then layering cadmium red atop. The red applied is not a foreboding shade, rather it is a heady orangey-red that emits a soulful warmth similar to the shades found in works by Alex Katz and Jonas Wood.
Red is a color of extremes, a deeply emotive and a symbolically rich hue that evokes feelings of passion, anger and excess.
In “Woman and Painting,” Puckett depicts a woman sitting in front of a red painting with plumes of monsteras emerging behind her. Puckett restrains the background color in this work via a white border but returns to his typically liberal use of paint on the form of the woman. From her clasped hands and crossed legs to the highlights in her facial features, Puckett brandishes the color on the sitter, easily making one believe this is her natural skin tone. In the painting “Monstera,” Puckett paints the figure only in shades of red and sharply outlines her attributes in black and aqua. The portrait is completely entrancing in its starkness and individuality.
Each of Patrick Puckett’s portraits has an indisputable presence. Though the people may seem mysterious and introverted, owing to their limited expressions, Puckett only imparts as much information as needed, allowing the viewer to transmit their own narrative. Moreover, in this current body of work, the inclusion of the Monstera plant and the color red provide visually powerful metaphors that add layers of depth to each painting. Like the Monstera plant, the figures invade our space and have the strange ability to make us think we are staring at someone we recognize, when in fact we are not. That is the power of an exceptional painter.
Monstera is on exhibit at Wally Workman Gallery through June 23, 2019.