Excerpt from The New York Times’ Art in Review: Josephine Axling: The Refusal of Desire,” by Joseph Pepperidge.
Newcomer Josephine Axling finds her work at the center of a new installation that opened last night at the Frigidaire, which is sure to solidify her standing as this country’s next Jackson Pollock. Building upon her pudding phase, she has outgrown the understated brown and greens hues that marked this earlier phase in her life. Now, working mostly in watercolor, her spontaneous brushstrokes have expanded on her earlier works such as ‘Pistachio’ and ‘Butterscotch’ with their frenetic energy. This new collection of six paintings not only reflects Axling’s precocious abilities as a painter, but also the incipient duality of her human condition. Some have even commented that this collection almost seems to have been painted by two different artists.
Viewers have been delighted by the whimsical cerulean blues and lavenders in ‘Cookie’ and its sibling ‘Cracker.’ Their commentary on the demands of today’s post modern family’s dietary habits harbor no nostolgia for a more formal Rockwellian era of sit down meals. Together, their demanding brushstrokes firmly redirect even the most distracted viewer toward their gaze as if to say “Hey, they’re up there in the cabinet!”
In contrast to these lighter works, ‘Styx’ has been described by other reviewers as “hauntingly stark” and “foreboding.” Similarly it appears in ‘The Letter O’ that Axling started with a floral effervescence of yellows and reds, but later she seems to have caged them in black brushstrokes. Gallery attendees often speculated in front of this piece as to the artist’s alluded title’s meaning, with “Oppression” being the most popular guess. ‘Styx’ and ‘The Letter O’ apper to be transition pieces – bridges (or rivers, as it were) toward a darker place, where viewers with more sensitive dispositions may not want to go.
Set against the gallery’s towering south wall, together hang ‘Exorcism’ and ‘Hades.’ A single bare light bulb hangs high above them, dangling from a cord that eerily is perpetually swinging slightly, casting shift shadows on these terrifying pieces. More than a few gallery goers could be heard gasping as they rounded the gallery’s corner. Most described a some sort of purple demon in ‘Exorcism.’ It’s been rumored that the artist painted this during a convulsive fit immediately after being denied a showing of ‘Cookie’ at the neighboring gallery ‘The Kitchen.’ The final piece in the collection, ‘Hades,’ is audibly powerful – seeming to scream so powerfully with the voices of those denied the gates of Heaven, that many viewers described feeling their eyes burn as they turned away from its cries.
Full of emotional range and artistic spontaneity, Axling’s latest collection at the Frigidaire sets the stage for an eagerly awaited encore. And given her young age, I’m sure audiences will not be disappointed in the coming year, though given the noticeably dark subject matter of her latest pieces, fans of her work are bracing for a emotionally draining experience after she turns two next month.