What’s Up, Clare Rojas?
Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco
Through August 6, 2022
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
Clare Rojas’s superpower has always been her delicate line and the restrained precision that she applies to almost everything she creates. That said, a new painting in her current show (the one from which the show’s title is derived) is neither reliant on her draftsmanship nor her restraint. In this outlier, Rojas is getting messy to get at something that isn’t as accessible in her other work: her emotions.
She Believed in the Magic of it All, the painting mentioned above, is the largest figurative work in the exhibit. It is a pastoral scene that evokes stereotypes of witchcraft. Most prominent is a female figure in a long dress, like that of a pioneer woman. She stands alone on a dark path with one arm aloft and her head thrown back in a supplicant pose towards witches flying on broomsticks overhead. In the distance more witches occupy a large bare tree, and aquatic birds wade in a nearby pond. An owl, crows and a tethered cat fill out the scene. It is crudely painted and awkward, everything the other paintings are not. It still retains her isolated figures, and it has the same surreal quality of her other work, but this is far more naturalistic and expressive. Everything points to the possibility of change: the title, the subject matter and above all, the loosely rendered image that is moody and suggestive. Rojas has decided to color outside of the lines.
Though Rojas usually exhibits her surreal narratives and more abstract compositions side by side, in the past her cool, deliberative approach and specificity unified both genres. They both are simple and forthright, harking back to the folk art and folklore that she credits as an influence. The graphic simplicity is never antiseptic, like much contemporary digital work, but instead reflects a more analog origin. If you look closely, things are not as tidy as they seem. Her smaller paintings have great delicacy, and if they teeter towards preciousness, she keeps it in check.
I’ll Always Have This Little Movie In My Head is a good example of her surrealistic and refined work. The painting is divided into several geometric areas of stark, saturated colors, anchored by a suggestion of a women’s face in the background, like an omnipotent Oz. A crown of neatly arranged hair, plus a refined eye, nose and mouth loom over the rest of the figures, who are diminutive in comparison. A man stands at the edge of a precipice, looking towards the woman while he holds the leash of a dog chasing a deer off the cliff. A woman, seated on the ledge, has literally lost her head, and a couple seated on a nearby park bench are absorbed with each other, oblivious to their surroundings. A lot is happening in a simply constructed painting. It is a scene of tremendous stillness contrasted with a few actions. The space surrounding each figure isolates them further, and their flat, stilted postures emphasize their loneliness and gives the painting the feeling of a two-dimensional puzzle. More than anything, it is a cerebral interpretation of what one presumes is an autobiographical narrative.
The Pink Hand is a small painting of a hand caressing an exotic, perhaps mythical, bird. Both have the deliberate fine lines of a Persian Miniature painting, and a similar sort of reverence. It is quiet and refined, and is a lovely example of the type of representational work Rojas creates that bridges her narratives and geometric paintings. With her formidable skills, a steady hand, and her vision that is equal parts imaginative and introspective, Rojas satisfies on so many levels.
Her paintings show great insight and delight within a minimal framework. For this show, Jessica Silverman, her San Franciscan gallerist, has rented out a sparkling white space to showcase Rojas’s paintings, and the hyper-pristine environment emphasizes the exacting nature that characterizes most of her work. It also highlights the differences between styles. The title of her show, The Magic Of it All, might refer to the magic of mysterious events depicted in her paintings, but the clarity of her vision is a kind of magic, too.