Writing Archive

Jennifer Basile

catalog essay, Kendall Campus Art Gallery, Miami Dade College, September 2004

Jennifer Basile brings a large arsenal of skills to her concerns: sculpture, printmaking, and painting are all in immediate evidence as she tackles personal and political themes. Her works retain a folk-art charm even as they hold their own as sophisticated objects. She works in the unrestrained manner that one sees in the oeuvre of self-taught or visionary artists - meandering freely but purposefully through subjects and media. This is a testament to an independence of mind that uses its training rather than becoming bound by it.

Traditionally, altarpieces are works of art that one can manipulate to inspire a sense of occasion. They present an interesting set of formal problems: often they are are single image or diptych on the outside and a triptych on the inside, and the design of the closed piece must assert its identity but not upstage the the work on the interior. How an altarpiece-type construction might play out in the contemporary, secular world is an exciting avenue to explore, and Basile demonstrates that work done in this manner carries some of its religious overtones. This is especially true when she addresses heavy themes, such as one work about the 9-11 atrocities. On the exterior, a diagrammatic plane flies at the viewer through flat clouds colored in cheery blues, behind which is a smoky, ominous sky rendered in a more threatening style. Inside, an abstracted, acidly-colored landscape with two ghostly towers is framed on either side by a mosque and a figure in traditional Arabic dress. Planes fly through each panel, perhaps threateningly, perhaps not. Neither sentimental nor vindictive, the work is an eerie reminder that the forces that brought about the 9-11 attacks are still in full operation.

Another altarpiece commemorates a visit to Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast of Italy. The exterior of the work is decorated with a mottling of ochres and dark blues, covered with a green foliage pattern that recalls motifs from traditional Italian papermaking. The inside center panel is a monochromatic rendering of a hill-town avenue, flanked by high banks of the irregularly settled architecture typical of the region. The side panels are striped in graphic, intense colors. The whole piece conveys a sense of nervous excitement.

Aside from the altarpieces, Basile also makes sculptures in the form of houses. They suggest the framework of charming, rustic structures, but are imbued with a discomforting degree of abstraction. They seem on their way to completion, and are frozen in a state of being open to the elements. Technically, they show off Basile's impressive woodworking skills and a knack for patternmaking that is evinced by her two-dimensional work as well. Emotionally, they hover between comfort and exposure, between solidity and fragility.

This ability to invoke paired opposites lends the work depth, and again demonstrates Basile's power to elicit a wide range of feeling through a wide range of media. Basile is a laudable artist who is capable of great craftsmanship, playful inventiveness, and insightful awareness of both material and interior conerns.

Word count: 502

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