A unique and novel take on the idea of the outsider in contemporary art is splayed, literally as well as figuratively, across, out from, and into the surface of Allison Schulnik’s scrumptious and cinematic new paintings at the Mark Moore Gallery. Confirming the messiness of the natural world and all that inhabits it, each of her felicitously gobby and overworked surfaces – some that look like they’ve been bulldozed, others that look like they’ve been excavated with a back hoe, scream “Van Gogh!” “De Kooning!” and “Francis Bacon” and, for good measure, whisper “Jimmy Stewart” and “Klaus Kinski.” Each poses questions that not only address the creation of a specific identity, that of her brilliantly conceived Hobo Clown (think of comic Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper’s clown articulated by Lucien Freud, with a detour through Rod Sterling’s “Twilight Zone”) but also question the very possibility of creating any identity.
The best way to view the show is to indulge yourself first with a gander at her five-minute Claymation film “Forest” in the second gallery. Beautifully orchestrated, not a little winsome, resembling what would happen if David Byrne channeled Siddhartha and re-did Gumby, a lonely figurine stares across a body of water at another figurine that morphs, melts, frostings into the water and then into a rainbow and then into the flowers, birds, butterflies, trees and sky of that enchanted Crayola Eden. Skin-flaps, facial features, hair, and what-passes-for-clothes of this voyeur/voyager change color, shape and texture many, many times per second. To watch her take a single step is to marvel at a metamorphosis that resembles a fast-forwarded video of clouds and a rainbow, through a forest, over an ocean, at sunset. In itself a gorgeous visual feast, the video suggests the near-impossibility of staking claim to a concrete identity when everything – the person and the environment with which she interacts – is in a constant and fluid state of flux. If the allegedly alienated figurine seeks fixity and stability, she’s not going to find it here. Mouths, eye sockets and a vagina are as undifferentiated as the figure/ground relationship that ebbs and flows from painting to painting. Better, the work seems to suggest, to nurture an accommodation with flux, uncertainty, and instability, each of which is hardwired into us and into the universe.
The gallery space thus articulated becomes a kaleidoscopic travelogue that brims with an ever-changing bouquet of flowers in mid-conjugation, the lips and eyes of the Hobo Clown that bulge with bewonderment as she continues on her peripatetic odyssey, monkeys, possums, cats, and a raccoon that literally jump off the canvas which could (some do) end up as floor sculpture, and the exterior of the Hobo Clown’s homestead, a cross between Edward Goren and the stage set for the Nutcracker ballet, an abode that is so overwrought with built-up trees, people, foliage that it’s hard to distinguish genders, genres, hierarchies, and taxonomies. It, and the exhibition as a whole, dismisses as irrelevant the idea of being an outsider when the line between out and in is blurred by the chameleonesque vagaries of time and, especially, by the fact that, when everything’s matter, difference is immaterial.