CARLY GLOVINSKI Congress Street Gallery
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The Portland PHOENIX Carly Glovinski dupes eyes, objects at June Fitz at MECA Double-take By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER July 27,2011
If you copied the entirety of Don Quixote by hand, you'd come to learn the story, but if you acted out the entire novel in charades, you'd definitely know it by heart.
If the artist whose works are currently on view at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery were a literature professor or a poet, this lesson would be more explicit. For a visual artist, however, it's a little trickier. Definitely the most out-there of exhibits in the statewide multi-exhibition Maine Drawing Project, "Decoy" is a fantastic new collection of works by emergent trompe l'oeil artist Carly Glovinski. Her 22 works transform the June Fitzpatrick Gallery into an elaborate showroom of familiar and recreated objects, and each of them is worthy of a double-take.
Glovinski, a New Hampshire native in her late 20s, is an uncommon artist indeed. She works with painstaking detail to recreate mundane objects found in everyday American life. The best of her works are spitting images of items of such base function or replaceability - hamburger wrappers, old dishrags, phone books - that we generally see them as trash or something close to it. A relative newcomer to the regional fine arts scene, her additions to recent group shows - the Portland Museum's "Trompe L'oeil" exhibit and this year's PMA Biennial - have been sneaky, witty foils to more traditional works, bringing the artist a lot of praise. But group shows are comfortable settings for deception artists (magicians, after all, rely heavily on distractions). "Decoy" is her first solo show, and it's a pleasure to learn that in the spotlight, Glovinski not only pulls off the same sleight of hand, but shares some surprising and deeply satisfying artistic values as well. To be sure, not all trompe l'oeil art looks like this. Originating in Greek antiquity, "trick the eye" works became widespread in fine art once the Renaissance brought linear perspective to the public consciousness. Because you don't need an art education to appreciate optical illusions, trompe l'oeil techniques are often appreciated outside of gallery settings, or where the cityscape intersects with nature.
Recent examples in Portland alone include the former Popeye's Ice House building, which had the tail end of a twin-engine airplane jut from its roof, and "Blueprint," the photorealist mural still overlooking the Free Street parking lot. While it's nearly universally true that trompe l'oeil works require a masterful hand and laborious work ethic - Glovinski's are certainly no exception - the exhibit at the June Fitzpatrick has a quality most other illusionist pieces lack.
The reason Glovinski's work is so interesting is that neither deception nor beauty are the driving force. Sure, her design of red ink, graphite, and correction fluid on well-folded paper that hangs in the gallery window looks just like a shabby dishrag, and the dimensionally spot-on kiddie pool (made from cast paper and coated in sky blue acrylic paint) balanced in the corner looks so real it might well be dragged out into the summer heat and enjoyed - but it would be misleading to say that the gallery is simply a hall of mirrors. Glovinski's studious, immersive attention to the delicate structure of overlooked objects far outweighs her interest in duping ignorant onlookers. Her work seems to suggest that only through such an elaborate, repetitive process of manipulating foreign materials might she truly understand them; even the most mundane story can become thrilling again if you tell it in another language.
The wonder behind Glovinski's investigations is childlike and boundless, and almost always apparent in every piece. In "Winddancer," a 20-by-40-inch work of cut paper and graphite, the face of a window-mount air conditioner is immediately present, but its likeness to an opera house blueprint appears upon deeper inspection. The two pencil butts of "Birdies," found crushed by car tires and repainted by the artist, resemble badminton props in miniature, and gallery owner Fitzpatrick herself had to inform me that "Extension," a floor-mounted length of aluminum and cast paper, wasn't a real electrical cord.
Several other individual pieces are noteworthy, but since "Decoy" is best observed as a collection, better to discover them on your own. Glovinski's ongoing obsession with the profiles of phone books work surprisingly well as conceptual meditations, and her nod to a Portland public-works institution is a nifty touch, too. Glovinski is hardly the first to play with art's most duplicitous form, but the insights made on her watch are crucial to understanding it. 2D trompe l'oeil art may fool the eye of the viewer, but in 3D, the artist can convincingly seduce herself.