Elizabeth Olbert is known for paintings of fantastic creatures, protagonists in a kind of sci-fi mythology of the artist's imagination. In this show, titled "Homesick," she presents nine recent works that are more or less sculptural. Included are painted reliefs and constructions, as well as a number of free-standing pieces made of carved wood. Sunsets, pets and youthful memories are a few of the subjects she addresses here. But the results are far from mundane. Like objects recalled from a childhood nightmare, the works suggest an apocalyptic fairy tale.
In Trouble, long strands of pink and blue vinyl dangle from the top of a hideous head that protrudes several inches from the canvas, a creepy personage that could be a witch. Nearby is an antique spinning wheel placed near the corner, its feet carved by the artist into the shapes of animal hooves. Another wall-hung work consists of a tangle of branches, whose ends have been shaped like a penis head. In Olbert's strange new world, even the house cat, Fluffy, the subject of another canvas, transmogrifies into a heinous beast.
In Tide, the most poetic work on view, the artist confronts Mother Nature. This large wall construction consists of a gorgeous seascape painted in glittering pastel hues. At the bottom of the canvas, jutting from the surface, are a group of "rocks" made of sandpaper-covered boards. Near the top of the canvas glows the pink light of the setting sun -- actually part of the canvas backlit by an electric light bulb. Running down the wall and onto the floor is a shimmering cascade, painted on a sheet of canvas that stretches toward the center of the room. There is a hint of menace to this high tide, which seems about to inundate the gallery. The work could be Olbert's prophetic image of the earth's final moments, when the polar ice caps have started to melt.
Elizabeth Olbert, "Homesick," Feb. 26-Apr. 4, 1998, at Caren Golden Fine Art, 39 Wooster Street, New York, N.Y. 10013