All or Nothing
Richard Heller Gallery
September 10 – October 22, 2022
Here, time moves slowly and demands nothing, contrary to our Western belief that we must dominate space and time by asserting our presence. That we must go, go, go. Empty armchairs, couches, and tables neutrally watch the day’s shifting light cast shadows across the room. These inanimate entities seem to possess a sentience, yet rather than dwelling on the past and future, are perhaps fixated on the present moment. A philosophical question that may arise: “Is reality only real once it is observed?” Within these walls there is no observer, yet life seemingly carries on.
These oil paintings on linen and canvas (all created in 2022) have a smooth, vibrant aesthetic, and while the compositions are fairly simplistic, there is the feeling that there is more than meets the eye. In Nobody’s Self Portrait #5, we see a plush, rosy colored armchair casually positioned within a living room area. The reflective hardwood floor is pristinely polished and the wall behind, a rich olive color, exhibits a large landscape painting with peculiar mountain ranges, a nocturnal sky, and accents of shooting stars. Both objects within the room emanate a liveliness, as if consciously sharing space together.
In contradiction to the tranquil scenes throughout this series, many of the paintings also portray disorderly incidents seemingly frozen in time. Nothing To See Here offers a moment of Dadaist drama meant for no one in particular to bear witness to. A perfectly tranquil office area has been suddenly accosted by a blaring steam engine manifested through a speaker monitor. The alarming occurrence has caused a drinking glass to flip on its side, resulting in a fluidic explosion upon the table.
In All About Us, another lone chair rests peacefully as if peering out the window, the morning rays projecting its shadow on the wall behind it. The chair has perched at its edge a cracked egg, whose gelatinous contents ooze downward. Protruding from the adjacent wall, an intimidating traffic light with the options “Talk” and “Don’t talk,” may assert its signals at any moment. Despite the looming censure of social behavior, as well as the unacceptable display of messiness, life in this realm seems to shrug off and carry on just fine.
As if snapshots of an in-between universe where humans have vanished like ghosts from the equation, these paintings may remind us of the excessive psychological constructs we invent in daily life. Perhaps, by shedding our passions, we may be permitted back into this uninhabited, enigmatic void that Mary-Couégnias has beautifully imagined.
Cover image: Nobody’s Story; all images courtesy of Richard Heller Gallery, photographed by the author.