Honey Instead of Vinegar: Corrie Slawson’s Future dithering at SHAHEEN modern and contemporary
“You know, I really just want to grow things,” says artist Corrie Slawson, laughing, though I don’t get the sense she’s kidding. Slawson’s garden—dappled with natives, cultivars, vegetable gardens, and a flock of chickens flowing alongside Taro, the family’s adopted rescue pup from Puerto Rico—is a crush of color, kaleidoscopic tones, and layered textures, fifteen years in the making. “You have to use what’s available,” she says unequivocally, pointing out hot pink roses from Home Depot next to a rare native plant with serrated, elephant-ear size leaves in concentrated greenish purple hues. This combination—the seemingly mundane, however flashy, juxtaposed with the exceptional or uncommon—fits as a platform from which to examine her most recent body of work.
Opening at SHAHEEN modern and contemporary on September 8, Future dithering that folds and unfolds in the past presents nearly two years of work (2021 to the present). Here Slawson starts to deal with internal, self-imposed boundaries as much as her previous bodies of work appeared to deal with unchecked suburban expansion. Gone are the wide swaths of negative space on the border of the picture plane, which framed carefully composed, floating linear landscapes. Replacing this sensibility are swirled, amalgamated, dancing forms unmoored and unencumbered by specific place and time. In Their Native Plant Is Your Ornamental (2022), dizzying floral motifs create an undulating field, an overgrown meadow receding and accelerating at once. Compact, elaborate, and more melodic than most of the artist’s work to date, simultaneity is overridingly present in this new work.
A significant concept for many avant-garde artists and writers of the early twentieth century (cubists, Orphists, and futurists, for example), simultaneity referenced new concepts of time, space, and consciousness (which, incidentally, seemed to occur on a broad scale during the years of the COVID-19 pandemic). Simultaneity, however, also indicates a complexity of vision and the intense collaging of different vantage points (past, present, those of memory and perception). Synthesizing just such to create one image, in these new works Slawson tells not one story, but multiple stories at once, effectively picturing the process of when thoughts start thinking us (think anxiety or neurosis), instead of us thinking (owning) our thoughts. As she describes, “history can be infuriating, the present is scary, and the future… oh my goodness! To be present, for me, means creating work that slows all of my processes way down.” From this perspective, the exhibition title reflects what occurs within the work itself: a slow compounding of the future, present, and past, rolled into one multi-faceted, multi-dimensional image.
Raised by musicians in a predominantly Italian family, the classical music repertoire served as a constant presence during the artist’s coming of age, even as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Belle and Sebastian, and Elliot Smith took hold of the artist’s consciousness, especially while working in the studio. No wonder, then, that Slawson’s paintings, drawings, and collages embody internal rhythms and harmonies that clash, crescendo, cry out, and collapse, underwriting intricate narratives set within abstracted, cosmic vistas. Long since the artist’s no-nonsense preferred go-to method, quick iPhone snapshots remain the nexus for many of Slawson’s investigations. But unlike her earlier work, which seemed to announce the presence of the quietly prognosticating news stringer, here the aura of the nightly anchor or NPR radio host remains largely absent. This work delves far more deeply into a shared, ancestral kind of communal worry, carving out a bright vortex in which to self-soothe or back float. The rainbow is ever-present in many of these pictures, with certain movements bordering on psychedelic tuning; during the pandemic, these pictures appear to have served as Slawson’s escape route. Not unlike Tibetan mandalas, multiple passages in these works sought to quiet the busy mind, to focus on one square space, clean it up, make it like honey instead of vinegar, and move forward, one moment at a time.
Born and raised in the Heights, Slawson’s work across the past decade has evolved systematically from spare (though never minimal), outwardly blistering compositions into hypnotic, allover pictures. And although the artist continues to reference some of the twenty-first century’s most concerning social and political issues—mental health or environmental disaster, for example—this work announces a new fluidity through both gestural and concrete marks. Printmaking, arguably the central medium that binds Slawson’s practice into a cohesive one, continues to remain paramount, allowing her to transfer digital or hand-drawn images to paper—scenes, quoted like snippets, from a reality show that feels both personal and observatory. Ignoring the perceived hierarchies between printing, photography, collage, drawing, and painting, Slawson often embellishes or composes entire pictorial quadrants exclusively with oil, acrylic, or colored pencil.
Brett Shaheen, who has worked with the artist since 2015, and has significant connections to artists with roots in Northeast Ohio, recently moved his art dealership and gallery, more than three decades in the making, from downtown on Superior Avenue to Mercantile Road in Beachwood in 2022. Now nestled in the Ohio Design Center between a stretch of corporate-looking buildings, the new gallery feels strikingly similar to the old one and nearly the same size. Seemingly unconcerned with the rapid pace of the art world, Shaheen demurs when asked about representing Cleveland artists, saying, “it’s a longer and important conversation, but I’ve never viewed Cleveland-based artists as ‘local artists’ or New York-based artists as ‘New York artists.’ People overemphasize those labels and lines of demarcation in a limiting way that downplays the rich, free flowing crossover and exchange of ideas. I work directly with artists from Cleveland and elsewhere and have always been interested in how I might contribute to that give-and-take dialogue between artists of different backgrounds making work in Cleveland and other locations around the world.” As it stands, for now Brett seems to be reveling in curating on-site exhibitions from his extensive inventory and, when Corrie Slawson’s solo show opens on September 8 this fall, there should be parking aplenty for even the coziest of crowds.
Corrie Slawson: Future dithering that folds and unfolds in the past, opens with a reception from 5 to 7:30 pm on Friday, September 8 at SHAHEEN modern and contemporary, 23533 Mercantile Road, Suite 119 in Beachwood. The exhibition continues through November 22. For more information see shaheengallery.com and corrieslawson.com.
Indra K. Lācis, PhD, is an art historian, curator, and writer based in the Midwest.