It may be a surrogate for the absent human figure, but clothing is something that Christina Renfer Vogel has been mastering for years. Yet never better than in her current exhibit at Fred Simon Gallery, Family Portraits, which continues until June 7.  This show seems personal where not only her skills with painting textiles are highlighted, but also we are able to get a glimpse into her mind and thoughts of the way she views everyday objects and memories.

“The figure has been a major part of my work but I’ve been playing with removing the figure from the paintings,” Vogel said.

Most of the works are simple and symmetrical.  The images are highly generalized of a western shirt or a textured bag.  The colors the artist uses can be muted and take on a quiet and restrained feel, but there always seems to be gentleness to her painting.  They seem lonely almost wanting more. 

“Jacket” is a non-descript garment that looks as if it was thrown on a peg.  Its interwoven color blocks of fabric are crumpled and worn.  The dejected object looks distressed, but the brilliant bits of texture pop off the canvas with its own intense sensation.

“This work is based on objects of personal significance collected from my home,” Vogel said.  “Functioning as a kind of familial iconography, these isolated objects and still lifes simultaneously represent childhood nostalgia, significant recent memories and existing family roles. I think of the paintings as portraits that examine domesticity and gender, while suggesting archetypes that I’ve observed within my family.”

“Handbag” is another piece that is visually striking.  Just her purse is featured in this painting with such rich details of bright colored flowers and a patent leather strap, and the gold hardware worn with age.  There are other personal objects in this show of houseplants, a Christmas cactus, toys and antlers, but always with a sense of seclusion and solitude. 

“October 18, 2008” is a personal piece of Polaroid photos deftly painted on a canvas.  One of the smallest pieces in her show it is also the most detailed.  The viewer can make out the joyous scene, but cannot really understand what it is.  However, with Vogel’s description the viewer finds out they are photographs from her wedding documenting her guests.

Vogel focus on form that helps define the austere contemplativeness of her work.  Her paintings admit a greater compositional complexity with highlighting and use of shadows.  The relationship between the paintings in the first room shifts visually between a mellow balance of single painted objects to a more discordant struggle with composition and color.  With her Still Life paintings located in the second room the viewer can see conflict between chaos and order. There is a tension within each of those pieces. 

“I try to stay highly engaged with art-making,” she added. “Working at the Bemis Center and getting to know the work of our artists-in-residence has been so valuable and has kept me motivated. I read a lot, look at work in person in our community and online, and try to travel as much as I can to see what’s going on outside of Omaha. Working is the best way for me to get ideas. A group of paintings may lead to a new direction as I work through thoughts in the studio. ( ”

Vogel’s style and composition make the show cohesive where some of the objects represented seem unrelated and contradictory.  While her work shares certain attributes with Abstract Expressionism, it is always bold and through her process, it can tell a story.  It is so personal to both her and the viewer. Addressing issues of abstract painting and dealing with this idea of how clothing and various objects make us who we are. 

“My work is coming from a place of personal narrative but I hope to communicate, through color or mark-making or the placement of the subject, universal feelings such as longing, tension or comfort.”

Vogel is speaking directly to her viewers. In doing so, she established an intimate relationship between her art and its audience.  Her personal narrative resonates with those viewing her work.  Vogel is engaging the audience with an autobiographical recollection that opens her up to allow us to experience the human part of inanimate objects.

Family Portraits continues through June 7th, 2013 at Fred Simon Gallery located in the Nebraska Arts Council at 1004 Farnam Street, Plaza Level, Omaha, NE  68102.  For more information call (402) 595-2122.

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