Anna Membrino: “Views” at Erin Cluley Gallery

DALLAS

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“Nut Party,” 2016, Anna Membrino
Acrylic and oil on canvas, 72″ x 60″
Photo: courtesy Erin Cluley Gallery

Standing opposite one of Anna Membrino’s new large-scale paintings in her show “Views” is something like an invitation to walk into a colorful, theatrical space that channels Surrealism. You may even feel like Alice the anxious moment just before she walks through the looking glass. Another instructive comparison would be to the films of Raul Ruiz, who often collaged flowers and other still life objects into his frame, placed in position to compete with the scale of the filmed action so as to disorient and surprise the viewer. Membrino decidedly holds on to a horizon line in most of her paintings, creating a three-dimensional landscape animated by images of plants and rocks that form fantastic spaces, beckoning the viewer to imagine entering, and what it might mean to make his/her way among the objects that are more like elements in a tableau vivant. These amazing works are the fruit of a commitment to painting and an education that includes study at the Rhode Island School of Design, a BFA from the University of North Florida, and an MFA at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she lives and works.

In Rooted Out (2016), three shapes, without corresponding analogues in reality, occupy varying distances within a medium-depth surface, along with two distinct, mostly green, plant branches that rise up to the top of the canvas. Conversely, these are based on real plants and are painted with extreme detail in order to contrast with the other elements, whose rendering she handles loosely. The most compelling form comes closest to the viewer, a large, irregular blue orb that looks collaged onto the surface. The line separating it, and all of the parts of the painting, is clear and hard, keeping them from melding together so that they retain a type of object-like isolation from one another. This helps to sustain the illusion that they are separate forms that have been assembled, perhaps against their will, and artificially placed within the tableau. Membrino uses a free style of handling the paint, a type of all-over abstraction, to render the blue orb and the grey-and-black form situated deeper in the frame. In combining the real and fabricated within a confined, foreign and surreal space, Membrino suggests that memory, dreams, anxiety, desire, and the absurd, each form a part of what defines existence through the enduring power of our imagination.

—JOHN ZOTOS