Shotgun Review


By Maria Porges September 25, 2014

Rather than being representations of place, Cynthia Ona Innis’s paintings are evocations of the experience of landscape. Innis favors locations where change is visible and constant—like Iceland, where she visited a year ago; the fault-ridden ground of the Bay Area; or the dramatic scenery of the Eastern Sierras: Mono Lake, desert playa, and high mountain peaks.

In the paintings and works on paper included in her exhibition Shift at Traywick Contemporary, cascades of fluid, transparent color invoke geysers and waterfalls. They also suggest the effects of light, ranging from dense fog to blinding reflections on water, or -- in shades of warm tan and brown-- the striation of sandstone in shades of warm tan and brown. But these biomorphic blots and splashes are rarely left to simply pour down the surface of Innis’s paintings. A variety of fabrics that include satin, silk, and velvet are first stained and then cut into strips. Innis manipulates them horizontally, arranging them on wood panels, canvas, or paper. A final layer of varnish fixes the collaged materials in place, though their raised edges remain visible

Cynthia Ona Innis.
 Shift, 2014; acrylic and satin on canvas; 
45 x 50 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Traywick Contemporary, Berkeley.

The effect of these offset horizontal bands is, at times, a jittery striation suggesting the flickering, momentary breakdown of an electronic image on a monitor even as it invokes geological time: the buildup, over millennia, of layers of compacted dirt and rock. This latter implication is reinforced by the shape of some of the canvases. Though all works in the show are wider than they are high (following landscape convention), some are quite close to being a square. In the painting Shift (2014), this barely rectangular shape (45 by 50 inches) is almost unsettling; the tension between two large vertical stains and the insistent bands of blue and grey that cross and recross the central two-thirds of the canvas makes it hard to visually resolve relationships of foreground to background, depth to flatness. The slight discomfort this causes is surprisingly pleasurable. Our inability to fix Innis’s compositions in place is a reminder that, even when we think we know what we’re seeing—a lake, light shimmering on its surface; rock towers, rising out of sere ground—what we gaze at is in the process of changing, moving as fluidly as washes of color on paper or cloth, towards another state.

Cynthia Ona Innis: Shift is on view at Traywick Contemporary, in


, through November 1, 2014.

Comments ShowHide

Related Content