The Freight+Volume gallery presents a large body of work by Natalie Westbrook titled “Surface Tension.” Its title refers to the notion of hidden meanings and stories that are vailed deep underneath a reflection on a liquid surface. The exhibition, mounted at the gallery’s newest location in Tribeca and extended by a month and a half due to its popularity, comprises dynamic acrylic and oil paintings replete with recurring images of happy faces, animals, highways, eyes, fingers, totems, and dragons. Many of Westbrook’s paintings feature human hands to convey the effort of reaching for visible yet evading objects.
One painting that captures this idea, titled “Feeler,” features a human hand placed over what seems to be a reflection of a face depicted by a pair of eyes and bright pink lips. The work’s colors are fiery yellow, orange, and red. There’s a further sense of intensity carried by swift, blurry black brushstrokes that resemble flames.
WHAT: Natalie Westbrook, Surface Tension
WHEN: Through July 10. The gallery is open Tue.—Sat. from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
WHERE: Freight+Volume, 39 Lispenard Street, NYC.
The much cooler-toned “Tri (Blue)” also demonstrates the idea of trying to reach inside reflections but in an even more cryptic manner. The painting — two layers, with a pair of eyes and an outline of a face and hand on the first layer, conveys the sense that the index finger of the hand has touched the surface of a body of water, creating a visible ripple effect — a perfect example of the actual definition of the surface tension phenomenon. On the left side of the painting is the shape of another hand cut out horizontally with skinny, elongated fingers stretching nearly halfway across the image, revealing a second layer. This hand is positioned so that it covers the mouth of the silhouette on the first layer. Above the cut-out hand is a cut-out pair of thin eyes shown in narrow slivers, suggesting a mischievous soul staring at the viewer.
“Totem 2” is done in various bright colors, while “Two Heads With Red” is primarily black, white, and gray with slivers of red in the far right side of the painting, emitting rose-colored hues with thin yellow-green and red highlighted brushstrokes. The faces in both works are reminiscent of Jean Dubuffet’s style.
The primary focus of a painting titled “Lumen“ is a reclining human figure enveloped in hazy leopard skin with four monochrome leopard skin shapes that resemble serpents, frogs, and lizards in a background. There is also a butterfly with elongated wings, whimsical brushstrokes resembling lanes on a highway.
“Smile With a Black Cat” features nighttime hues in shades of blue and purple — a cat is seated in front of a haunting face with a toothy smile and blue eyes staring at the viewer. A similarly themed painting titled “Black Cat Sunset” features brighter colors giving it a very autumn-like aura. A black cat with wide eyes is standing on its back legs on a tree branch, looking ready to pounce. As the title suggests, the sun sets in the background as a pair of human eyes is seen in the lower right corner. A leaf with spots and a thin line in its center stands out as the only black and white part of the piece.
Overall, the show is pulled together by the recurring theme of dreamlike and fantastical images that have long characterized Westbrook’s work.
Westbrook’s works were shown in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and abroad. She had taught painting at Yale University and currently teaches at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.