Over the past couple of decades, Constance Mallinson has deployed a bag of tricks borrowed from the antics and tactics of old masters, commercial illustrators, designers and filmmakers, to create landscape paintings that are photorealistically convincing while laying bare their pictorial devices. In some paintings, Mallinson assembled bits of landscape into faces and full figures, taking a cue from Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian known for paintings in which objects normally reserved for still lifes were rearranged into portraits. In her first show at Angles, titled “Stilled Lives,” she continues in that vein, but takes a decided turn. The figures, scenes and patterns presented here are rendered, in oil on paper, in fine detail, based upon arrangements of shriveled leaves, dried bark and other found flora staged in Mallinson’s studio. With Persephone in autumn, not spring, as her muse, Mallinson produces images as playful and critical as her paintings ever were, whether in converting leaves and twigs into type and wallpaper patterns, or creating a strolling couple reminiscent of Dürer’s “Adam and Eve,” or directly quoting Manet’s “Olympia.” But the most compelling works on view depict an awkward copulation (or maybe rape) scene in one and a slouched (or maybe dead) woman, naked and legs spread, in another. These, combining Arcimboldo’s playfulness with Duchampian cleverness, the emotive intensity of Edvard Munch and confrontational brutality of Hans Belmer, and the body language of Ray Bolger’s scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, are hard to look at yet are mesmerizing, evoking more pathos than most pictures of flesh and bone, and stirring a genuine sense of connection to nature even as you revel in their artifice.
Constance Mallinson, Olympia Decayed (2008)