Thomas Erben is excited to present American painter Shanna Waddell’s second solo exhibition, following her well-received show in 2011. In this new group of works, Waddell’s fascination with cults – religious or personal – continues to serve as a vehicle for broader existential themes. These are tough paintings, which Karen Rosenberg, in a New York Times review, assessed as forging a “confident style best described as post-apocalyptic and post-Expressionistic. It’s hallmarks are radioactive colors, corrupted sterile and spiritual imagery, and sheer painterly bravura.”
In Waddell’s 2011 exhibition, we were introduced to a private iconography of floating shapes and spaces, garishly colored coffins and cabinets. Continuing in the same vein, her new paintings introduce the blackness of an undefined outer-space-like void, while still retaining much of the same intensity in color. The artist uses a wide variety of painterly techniques and materials, contrasting vaporous clouds of spray paint with gleaming metal leaf and wrapping paper, and brushwork alternating between flowing and decisive.
In ( it's like ) roadside stuffed animals, Waddell takes on the subject matter of River Phoenix, with his connection to The Children of God, and Kurt Cobain, who, though not himself a cult member, has been the subject of a cult-like following both in life and death. Painting them in what she calls “light vehicles” – square, moving spaces with bright, stylized wheels – Waddell resurrects these individuals, creating memorials, like painted versions of the improvised roadside altars often found along the highway where accidents have recently occurred.
One fundamental theme in Waddell’s work is the unraveling of beauty, the entropy that corrupts even – or maybe especially – the most righteous and lofty ideals. A cult lets the end justify the means and turns to violence in its pursuit of paradise. A rock star finds no solace in the glory of stardom, and ends his life in drugs and suicide. As an ultimate symbol for this dynamic, the artist utilizes the figure of Satan, once the most beautiful of angels, turned into the opposite. Waddell paints her Satan as a vague conglomeration of expressions and body parts: a manifold presence hovering in empty space trying to figure out which shoes, or legs, to wear – as in Untitled (Satan) – or a silvery idol traveling in a light vehicle of his own, resplendent but headless, in Light Vehicle (Satan). He serves as a reminder of the flaw present in the midst of beauty, and the essential mystery behind all existence.
Shanna Waddell (b. 1981, Long Beach, CA) received her MFA from Tyler School of Art (2010) and a BFA from California State University Long Beach (2006). She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.