A Commitment to What is Before You at Northern-Southern is a meditation on quietude and form. The exhibition presents an unexpected blend of artists — Alexandre Pépin, Donya Stockton, and Ryan McKerley — who work in oil painting, basket weaving, and functional ceramics, respectively. Despite their disparate materials and methods, the thoughtful artworks gathered together in this exhibition collectively inspire us to slow down and look inwards, an act that feels increasingly necessary and restorative as the pandemic drags on.
Pépin’s Small Body Basking, Floating (2021) is a standout. Painted with the French Canadian artist’s velvety hand in rich gold and burgundy hues, the piece is compact but magnetic. It shows a cluster of dark trees surrounding a shimmering pond, its surface illuminated by beams of light shining down from the painting’s top right corner. A hint of narrative is implied, but not sharply enough to condense the painting’s poetic potential. Here and in Pépin’s other works, prolonged viewing is rewarded with details and figures that emerge gradually. The Post-Impressionist artist Pierre Bonnard’s sensitive brushwork and tender landscapes come to mind, but there’s something else going on in Pépin’s paintings. His interest in nature is matched by a fixation on a more interior world, where deep reflection and even fleeting dreams play. This sort of space appears in another exquisite, intimate work, Group Meditation (2021), where kneeling Buddhist figures are consumed by fleshy strokes of light and shadow.
Basket weaving seems to be an inadequate term to describe Stockton’s cane and reed creations. These elegant, undulating loops of woven material defy our common conception of a basket, or of a container of any kind. The gallery’s director, Phillip Niemeyer, told me that a child once described the Oaxaca-based artist’s pieces as holders of light and air. Like their ephemeral contents, Stockton’s sculpted objects seem to be in motion, floating freely while still nonetheless staying bound in a single, continuous matrix.
Though they’re decidedly more restrained than Pépin’s glimmering canvases and Stockton’s wild curves, McKerley’s black and white porcelain cups are subdued and self-contained without feeling austere. The Austin artist uses a process called water carving to etch into the surface of his vessels. McKerley’s glossy glazes and clean-cut shapes are tactile and inviting, and remind us of the thrill of handling small objects that we admire. In all, the show offers a sense of rare respite where viewers can lose themselves —if just for a moment — in the beautiful things that are still before us.
A Commitment to What is Before You is on view at Northern-Southern in Austin, Texas through February 19, 2022.