For the past several years, painter Jennifer Coates has made a series of canvasses based on various foods, both sweet and savory, which play with ideas of representation and abstraction. In the best examples, they hover somewhere in the middle, but the overall idea is an ingenious one, allowing her to make an image that we are well-acquainted with, yet giving her enough leeway to incorporate diverse paint handling in combination with a sophisticated grasp of color. Coates’s painting chops (pun intended), can be seen in such works as Lasagna, 2016, with its scumbled surface of alternating pinkish-yellow and rusty vermillion tones, alongside an explosion of orange representing the cheese peeking out between layers of meat. Painted on a pastel blue-green background, the oozing pile of Italian cuisine touches three sides of the canvas, allowing us to vacillate between appreciating it’s abstract qualities as well as its recognizability as a pasta dish.
By contrast, in Spaghetti and Meatballs, 2016, Coates uses an underlying rhythmic and repetitious series of curved lines to render the thin-stringed food. This sets up a sharp contrast with the deep red lumps on top that read as chunky meatballs, which leave wisps of sauce on the intertwined bed of cylindrical pasta. The top part of the canvas is painted a flat medium gray tone, which could be read as a sky, adding further interest, as one could imagine a larger than life mountain range of spaghetti. More abstract is Cinnamon Roll, 2016, and Cotton Candy, 2015. The former shows a translucent white and yellow glob over a beige circular form with a conspicuous spiral, while the latter has a light pink mound of gossamer fluff with a white stick protruding below, revealing its true nature. With these more ambiguous works, Coates has managed to combine her overly familiar subject matter with inventive painting, causing us to look upon them anew.
Jennifer Coates, “All U Can Eat,” Freight+Volume, New York, March 4 — April 16, 2017.