Cathy Daley’s second solo exhibition at Edward Cella Art + Architecture combined two visions of the female form, contrasting sheer exuberance and fantasy against a more restrained representation of the female form. The first room of the gallery was filled with the prior, striking visions of billowing skirts constructed of loose gestural marks out of which extend long inky black legs. There is a sense of vitality and strength in the figures that emerge from the Canadian artist’s striking use of black oil pastel against milky translucent vellum. These drawings inevitably evoke vintage fashion and old-Hollywood glamour, and the monochromatic black-and-white heightens the feeling of nostalgia created by the luxurious costumes.
In the second room, the story becomes more complex. Against three of the walls a single image from the energetic untitled series is hung, while the fourth contains a lineup of eight works from Daley’s the little black dress series (2012). The contrast between the two is immediately apparent –billowing skirts are replaced with highly structured pencil dresses, the sense of dance replaced with stiff posturing. The staging of the works in the gallery furthers the division, and social hierarchy, between the two. Each work of the untitled series is hung so that we perceive the figures as slightly alleviated, as though on a stage, the sense of movement and dance suggesting performance. Along the back wall, the slightly crowded arrangement of the black dress drawings suggests the ebb-and-flow of the audience with all its accompanying social accouterments. Although any trace of the human figure is all but removed, there are distinct personalities on view–the flirt, the wallflower, the eavesdropper, and so on–as the dress becomes a surrogate for the female body. The solo performance suggested by the dancers in the first room becomes an interaction of public rituals in the second. Arranged in this manner, the audience constructed of Daley’s little black dresses is cleverly cast in the role of critical voyeur–alongside the gallery viewer–of not only the dancing figures, but also of each other.