If the latest roller coaster at Cedar Point is a little too scary but you still want to
    upgrade your vertigo, try zooming in on yourself via Google Earth. It’ll leave you
    feeling like a bug in a teacup on a plate at the end of twirling stick. Or maybe like
    one of Amy Casey’s amorphous, appealingly non-human urban creatures
    occasionally seen in that artist’s latest paintings, tossed like arugula as their old
    neighborhoods are upended in paroxysms of sudden, violent change.

    Casey has painted increasingly profound visions of home and its insecurities since
    her 1999 graduation from the Cleveland Institute of Art. A few years ago her small
    and mid-size acrylic on canvas works typically stirred together and inverted interior
    and exterior views of a vividly intimate, tactile world. Wallpaper patterns became
    landscape elements, as an evolving cast of characters (in one work from 2001 they
    were little yellow chicks) re-enacted family stories, or later adult experiences. By
    degrees Casey’s painted world became a hostile, if beautiful, place, plagued by
    towering factories and overabundant, toxic plant life. Diminutive mutant families
    crouch in dismay in these works, like dust bowl-era Okies headed for the storm
    cellar, powerless to prevent a coming Apolcalypse.

    Then, apparently, It came. For the past year or two Casey’s downtown ‘scapes
    have turned almost literally upside-down. Roads tear loose from their guardrails,
    bucking high in the air as they rain down clods of earth and orange traffic barrels,
    while houses hang on to their foundations with the utmost difficulty, if at all.
    Mysteriously, much of this seismic activity shakes Casey’s neighborhood while it’s
    propped up on a makeshift trestle of stilts, as if somebody was somehow trying to
    practice desperate damage control. However that may be, a painting like
    Surrounded can come to no good end. Along the lower margin of that acrylic on
    paper work a jumble of houses is seen sinking into a morass of crazy, crab-claw
    plants. Above them a delicate blue bridge carries a section of blacktop to nowhere,
    while to the right two intact clapboard dwellings perch on a little toupé of turf, held
    precariously aloft by a cat’s cradle of skinny timbers. Looking more closely, we see
    a spiky, spunky little Casey critter gamely using its pseudopods (or whatever) to
    shoot baskets against the garage. Whether this is an act of bravura, or a case of
    denial, or both, is anybody’s guess. The infectious visual motion of Casey’s latest
    compositions pulls the viewer into a loop of imagery and texture that is at least as
    giddy as it is pessimistic, like a child’s game of snakes and ladders, but mixed with
    intimations of doomsday and a hefty dollop of plain old daily anxiety.

    Recent Yale graduate (MFA 2007) Breehan James has a different take on home
    and hearth. Her paintings and prints here are mostly studies for larger works
    (“which wouldn’t fit on the plane,” she explains), but even so stand on their own as
    semi-idyllic visions of a family time-warp. Several are oil and acrylic on canvas
    depictions of a cabin and its environs, where the James clan gathers. The place is
    Wisconsin and the time is, as she remarks, basically the 1960’s – “nothing has
    changed up there since then.” Her cabin view from lake is a lovely work that owes
    much to several American painters who have dealt with landscape and with modes
    of visual simplification. It brings to mind both the self-taught, post-impressionist
    influenced, deeply American landscapes of Fairfield Porter, and more recent
    mediations on suburban life by fellow Yale grad Jennifer Bartlett. Fresh and well-
    composed, it presents the swooping horizontal tangle of branches and vertical
    pattern of tree trunks that clothe a sojourn in the woods with great verve and
    spontaneity. The simple, clear-eyed nature of these works is celebratory in its
    appreciative response both to nature and to the qualities of the various paints that
    James employs. Each image seems like a conscious emblem of a place, or an
    event, or even a life-style, in the most resonant sense of that phrase -- a life
    conducted in a manner that expresses something of its personal history and
    essential being. They speak of a life (or part of a life) lived close to the land in a
    specifically American vein.

    James’ deer hunting shows a grassy clearing or park that flows up to a line of trees
    in the middle distance. The antlered body of a deer lies in the foreground just
    above the right hand corner of the canvas, pierced by arrows. James reports that
    one family member is a bow hunter, and this is simply a picture of that. Certainly the
    scene, while perhaps a little sad, is not sentimental. The fact of the dead animal is
    presented in the same visual tone as the other elements in the work. And although
    the deer is much nearer to us than are the trees, it is still small. We’re seeing it from
    some distance, then, but this painting also seems to be one in which James is
    headed toward a manner more obvious in other paintings and prints here, where
    she moves toward folk art references and sources. It’s a mode that it proceeds
    towards its subject intuitively rather than objectively, and therefore the smallness of
    the deer is likely to be a comment, as much as a visual fact: It’s either not important
    to the painter, or it represents a fact that the painter wishes to minimize.

    Questions like these, having to do with the conventions of depiction as they relate
    to the ordering of private experience, peek out from behind James’ deceptively
    simple images, making comments about the psychology of intimate places, about
    home and the events and habits that constitute a sense of belonging in the world.

    [Free Times 6/6/07]
Amy Casey acrylic on paper 2007
You Can't Go Home Again:
Amy Casey and Breehan James @ Parish Hall