Carin Riley’s recent works, watercolor on paper, are intricate but poised tangles of lines—a recurrent motif—entwined into a semblance of a tapestry, the weave of varying patterns and densities, some loose, open, others twisty, tightly drawn. You can almost see, sense her drawing as you attempt to trace her progress, a kind of interactive component that is one of the pleasures that her work offers. She also very attentively chooses materials; the blue she uses is an indigo, a natural dye, and paper is selected with meticulous care.
Composed of shades of blue—the color that engrosses her at the moment--they summon up thoughts of Greece and its classical heritage, encouraged by their titles: Penelope, Ariadne, Blue Caryatid, Complicated Athena, The Ancient Art of Beekeeping and so forth. In particular, it is the stories about mythic heroines that have long beguiled Riley, who has knotted their formidable exploits into her webs, if only imaginatively. Penelope, Odysseus’s faithful wife, who cleverly kept her suitors at bay through weaving and unweaving, Ariadne, who saved her beloved Theseus by giving him the golden thread that led him out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, the wise goddess Athena, legendary warrior women such as Hippolyta and Penthesilea, and more have been her muses. And keeping them relevant, they have been continuously reinterpreted over the ages to reflect contemporaneous representations and ideologies.
Riley has been attracted to weaving even as a child, and said that before women were permitted to write stories, they wove them. And it is this that gives her a starting point, momentum, like a prompt or a soundtrack, a dance, even if not visible in the work, which is pretty much non-referential. And while, for example, Riley’s Ariadne (2018) might suggest the maze that housed the monstrous creature, it is not an illustration of it. Modulating the various lines, she deftly plays lights and darks against each other. She pulls them forward, forces them back, thickening and thinning the skeins, overwriting at times a paler image in the background that seems to gently reverberate, like a murmur, an echo, a ghost, acting as the blueprint for the drawing.
We can, of course, always find figuration in imagery if we are intent upon it; it’s perhaps a version of pareidolia, a word that is also of Greek origin. But it’s not so much the imagistic references to ancient Greeks that matter as it is the thinking of the artist, although it is only one of many threads and ultimately, what is discovered and responded to depends upon the viewer as he or she parses the imagery, to see what they can see. Her investigation, Riley hopes, can lead to other truths besides her own.
Another preference of the artist is to focus on one color at a time, for structural clarity and tautness, intensity. In her virtuoso treatment of that single color—blue in this sequence—it becomes sufficient, even rich, its own world. The blue also seems a nod to a specific place, a color that might particularly evoke Greece, past or present. Who does not think about Greece without thinking about the reverie-inducing, light-struck seas of the Aegean, its ethereal skies and whitened temples?
Lilly Wei is a New York-based art critic, independent curator and journalist.
Born in New York
Lives and works in New York City
MFA - Art Institute of Chicago, IL
BA - School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Selected Group Exhibitions
Selected Drawings,Weber Fine Art, Greenwich, CT
Prophetic Diagrams, George and Jorgen, London UK
Amulets, Queens College Art Center, Queens, N.Y
Rapunzel, Queens College Art Center, Queens ,NY
Undercover, Slag Contemporary , Bushwick, NY
Utopia, Queens College Art Center, NY
Unfreedom, Smudajescheck Galerie, Ulm, Germany
Study for Chinese Maple, Site-specific wall drawing for Ligne Roset, New York, NY
Out of Line, Slag Gallery, New York, NY
“Out of Line,” Goings on About Town, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010
“Out of Line at Slag Gallery,” by Mica Medoff, The Drawing Center blog, June 23, 2010
The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR
-Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
The Brickman Collection, New York, NY
Mitchells / Richards Collection
Private Collections, N.Y and CT