Surreal Things

Lauren Satlowski: Lily Vase with Faces, 2020, oil on linen, 27 by 22 inches.

JILL MULLEADY’S PAINTING SOLUS LOCUS (2018) is a dream of a bivalve Venus: an oyster on the pearlescent half-shell spreads across the picture, lusciously plump, its striated folds rendered as tongues and lips. The shell dwarfs the hand reaching in from the upper left, gloved in slick black, wrist cocked as if ready to play the oyster like a harp. Of course, in many dreams, you don’t get the things you want. Anxious dreams are a series of near misses, like shucking an oyster only to find dry meat. You usually don’t get the things you want in waking life, either—or at least getting them isn’t often as satisfying as you’d hoped. A painting like Mulleady’s offers a certain consummation of the dream; but also emphasizes this absence, being, after all, only a picture, no matter how much the genre of still life implies possession. What you really have is art. The image is poised on the moment of waking, between having and not having, the unconscious and the conscious, the dream and the world.

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