Yes Please Thank You
Amy Bay at Melanie Flood Projects
Amy Bay’s solo exhibition at Melanie Flood Projects, Yes Please Thank You, is a sparse hanging of small to medium sized, thickly textured, oil paintings on canvas that depict flowers in various ways. One wall of the gallery is covered with a shimmering silver mural, pulling imagery from the wallpaper patterns of the Arts and Crafts movement. Adorned with thistle leaves, bleeding hearts, dandelion, pimpernel, anemone and a prominently placed pomegranate, the mural is an effective focal point in the gallery’s main room, acting as both wall covering and frame for the roughly 18” square painting that rests in it’s center.
The titles of Bay’s paintings are wondrously oblique: Pou; A Letter Was Nicely Sent; and as for her, she, I; with my personal favorite being Gossip. The language seems to roam from the Gertrude Steinesque to Hallmark greetings, creating a sense of poetic mystery around the prickly judgement of manners. The only let down is Laugh of the Medusa, the name of Hélène Cixous’s canonical feminist essay, which undercuts the pointed subtlety of the other titles. It’s a rare moment of insecurity within the exhibition. Perhaps Bay doesn’t trust her own voice or perhaps she’s offering assistance to her audience, acknowledging that women are increasingly leading the workforce while the home is supplied by a series of phone apps, and the prison of domesticity might be less of a political flashpoint and more the quaint province of Douglas Sirk films.
The works in the exhibition share similarities of color palate, painting style and subject matter, yet each seems to offer a unique experience. The seven by five inch, Alpenveilchen, makes the most of its tiny picture plane. The foreground is marked with an X pattern that could represent carvings on a table, the weave of a wicker basket or a decorative linen. Bay’s loose brushwork depicts the titular plant’s low lying cluster of leaves with stems rising up to support pink flowers at the top of the canvas. There is perhaps a window, or a hint of other foliage at the right edge of the image; this might be the only painting in the show to have a background that isn’t monochromatic. Alpenveilchen, or cyclamen in English, flowers are sent to signal an ending, breakup, or departure. The work poses layers of questions, such as who or what is Bay walking away from, or is she the one left staring out the window.
Wallflowers presents a dynamic composition of turquoise bellflowers, pink and purple roses, and circular yellow flowers. The arrangement is not strictly gridded, but the long lines of the bellflowers and elongated shape of the leaves give the sense of a rigid order emerging through the placement of floral forms. Bay comes close enough to offer just a whiff of De Stijl’s active geometry, but undercuts that interpretation with thick smears of paint and organic shapes. The composition is far too active to be a wallflower, and too expressionistic to be a Broadway Boogie Woogie. The painting becomes a metaphor for the active interior life of the socially self-exiled, somebody who falters in the face of small talk and social nicety. Art movements, we are left to assume, are simply another form of exclusionary group dynamics filled with more layers of assumption and judgement.
Still lifes have always been about coding information: the meaning of a flower, the tool of a trade placed nearby. Bay takes that challenge and fashions an intellectual scavenger hunt that pulls from ridiculously varied sources, as indicated in the Prudence Roberts penned exhibition essay: poetry, embroidery samplers, the discourse of politeness, decoration, the line between the beautiful and the grotesque, feminism, modernism, abstraction, kitsch, greeting cards, delicacy, frailty and obedience. Bay brilliantly breathes life into the exhibition through a subtle poetic pieced together from a pastel pallet and judicious use of glitter.
The exhibition provides something that is less political art, and more of a poetry derived through political feelings; it reveals Bay’s process of decoding images along critical lines, then reforming the bits into something subversive. Yes Please Thank You is a poignantly subtle translation of the emotional weight of the Trump years and the personal resonance of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, sublimated into works that are deceptively decorative.