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Harriet Shorr


Like the classical sculptures in her realist paintings, Harriet Shorr presents an idealized version of things in her dreamy/domestic worlds. Shorr blends two genres, the still life and the landscape together with varying degrees of success. Using pastel-hued palettes, Shorr achieves a candy coated patina best exemplified by her painting of petits fours, “Pink/Resemblances.” The muted tones of the color add to the laconic drama that unfolds in each canvas, while serving as formal device to flatten the space. The show is a series of sleepy canvases and monotypes that drift in and out of a kind of realism practiced by Shorr’s contemporaries Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein.

The largest canvases in the show are based on the reflections of table-top still lifes in windows looking out on suburban landscapes as in “Dream of the Window/Country.” Despite Shorr’s reluctance to attribute any sort of narrative to her work, a remnant of modernist painting ideology, the fixed point-of-view in these canvases creates the domestic drama. The narrator is located inside while the still life is projected outside beyond the confines of the home, which creates a sense of longing. The paintings create a psychological drama, less to do with any unseen characters than with the narrator Shorr creates through her deliberate construction of space. The objects that populate the still life seem like a refraction of the narrator’s life and memories through their careful choice, like the beach shells, string of pearls, and classical sculptures of women in “Dream of the Window/City.”

Harriet Shorr,
Harriet Shorr, "Dream of the Window/country," 2002. Oil on canvas. 55 x 85".

Despite the subtle narrative that develops out of Shorr’s use of genres, her main interest still seems to be with formal notions of space. All of the images in the show struggle to reign in perspective and flatten the real through composition and tone. In “Manet’s Brioche,” a white dress and black gloves lay on a table/bed next to a china plate with a brioche. In the back, a comical feline threatens to pounce. The space is on such an angle that it presses the surface of the picture plane. Between the dual Manet reference, flatness, and the cat, Shorr’s title is witty and informative. All the paintings seem to refute distance, to hover next to the surface of the canvas. Still, Shorr’s handling of the paint is anonymous, her brushstrokes confined to creating larger forms. While Shorr is a skilled painter, the rendering does not venture near photorealism. The forms and lines are imperfect, reminding the viewer that the images are paintings and not to be confused with photographs of reality.

In her monotypes, Shorr’s hand is more evident because of the speed of the process. They are quite lovely. The color is less toned down, giving them a look more akin to Bonnard than Pearlstein. The monotypes seem to be studies for the paintings, but the style is almost more appealing in “Proposal for A Corner I” than in the carefully executed canvases. Shorr might want to bring some of the gesture and speed of the monotypes into her canvases, where a sense of play and humor is needed, such as in “Pink/Resemblances.” Her careful hand is appropriate to the reflection paintings, but her subject matter leaves room for stylistic play.


William Powhida


The Brooklyn Rail

APR-MAY 2003

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