Upon first reading, the title of Rebecca George’s exhibition “Turn the Other Eye” suggests a rejection, a turning away. It’s true to some degree. Her last show Have Many Rabbits was a farewell of sorts to her rabbit companions, assembling a vast repertoire of paintings, prints and drawings celebrating the existence and mourning the loss of her brood of rabbits. These works, many of which leading up to the work in the current exhibition, demonstrate not only George’s fluency in many media but a restless desire to capture the delicious and mysterious realm of animal life, to permeate the mystery that links us to animals but forever holds us as other. Living with an animal connects us more closely with nature, a double-edged sword that’s both life- and death-affirming. George’s visceral experience of loss and transformation powerfully revealed in a painting such as Covenant of Sorrow. The works that came after more deeply probe the issue of identity and transformation. Rebecca embodies this search in lush, figural paintings that coincide with her rabbit paintings. Some like State of Being (Hard on Myself), present a sisterhood of selves shapeshifting in a setting of dream-inducing blues, recalling Paul Gauguin’s symbolist paradises or bearing loss literally imprinted on their bodies. Cloaked figures haunt canvases evoking sepulchral visions as much as pupal coverings concealing the mysteries of metamorphosis.
In 2015, the passages of pure, expressive pigment found in the animal and figural paintings gave way to complete abstraction in a small but important body of work. Distilling her painting down to its most basic, George poured and dripped paint, which she made from powdered pigment, onto large-scale canvases. This period of free, dynamic expression free of narrative content served as a crucible of sorts, allowing her latest paintings to fuse content and form even more powerfully.
These works suggest a different reading of the exhibition title. A turning of the eye in the Biblical sense of acceptance and grace. To embrace life’s inexorable flux, to look at it closely, passionately for what it is. The Guardian is a wrenching dual portrait of a cat and figure. The cat is being held close to the figure but remains distinctly separate. Its cool gray and blue fur disconnected from the figure that exists in a ghostly realm of terracotta-scale canvases.
Written by Historian for the Art Institute of Chicago, Virginia Voedisch and published in the exhibition catalog for Turn the Other Eye, Solo Show of works by artist Rebecca George.