“After Trump won the election I didn’t see color anymore,” Zoë Shulman told me recently at the opening of “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government” her new solo show at Camiba Art.
“My work is typically uses vibrant color,” the Austin-based painter said. “But after the election the world was suddenly black and white for me and completely drained of color. It was a confusing environment for me. So I made the conscious decision to make political work.”
What she made is “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government,” a large diptych of hexagonal mixed-media works, digital paintings as it were, printed on aluminum. It’s displayed on the end wall of Camiba and in front of it is a floating shelf of lit, white votive candles.
Along the gallery’s side walls are a series of similar smaller hexagonal diptychs, the “Virtue & Vice Rosettes,” and they are likewise displayed with lit votive candles, the faint whiff of melting wax and the church-like arrangement of the paintings adding an unmistakable sense of devotion.
“This is a moral vision of American politics,” Shulman told me. It is also a much more two-dimensional vision than she typically creates. In previous shows at Camiba, her three-dimensional painting structures nestled in gallery corners or sat on pedestals.
But different times call for different artistic strategies. “I decided to flatten my political work and put it on the wall,” she said.
The art historical origin of Shulman’s “Allegory” is a three-fresco panel of the same name painted in the 14th century by Ambrogio Lanzetti in the town hall of Siena, Italy.
Shulman pulled from a plethora of world religions and spiritual traditions to gather images for material for her elaborate, and almost too-dense, black-and-white digital paintings. She also collected scanned objects and materials including a crystal, a glass orb, tree leaves, ammonite fossils, petrified wood, rattlesnake skin and a coyote skull, adding them to the heavy — and heady —mix that make up her geometric symbols.
In the essay she penned to accompany “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government” Shulman writes: “Fascists won’t appreciate the truth in what I’m making, and I think that’s incredibly powerful and important at a time when democracy itself is being likened to mere ‘political correctness.’ For me, this is the real stuff of painting.”
Zoë Shulman’s “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government” continues through Feb. 10 at Camiba Art. She will give a gallery talk at 2 p.m. Feb. 3.