The South described in Southern Gothic literature is a place of shadows, secrets and visions. Mimi Hart Silver’s paintings in “Dead of Night,” at Whitespace gallery through July 27, incorporate the shadows and psychic secrets; their luminous quality suggests the visions as well, although no subject matter could be less visionary.
For after the glowing abstraction of these biomorphic forms has been retranslated into the reality documented by the photographs on which these remarkable paintings are based, it becomes evident that we are looking at the skinning and evisceration (the “dressing”) of a deer shot by a hunter — by Silver’s brother, in fact. Dogs stand by as enthusiastic witnesses, ready to be enlisted in a moment of play such as that depicted in the painting “Hounskull,” in which the deer’s antlers are posed atop one dog’s head for the camera.
A different artist would have made such things merely horrific, or darkly macho after the manner of James Dickey’s novels and poems. Silver, who grew up in a place where these scenes were part of everyday family life, extracts an extraordinary poetry from the images. Her artist’s statement is, in fact, a prose poem about personal darkness and symbolic skinlessness and illumination in sleep: “I sin and I burn, I worship, and I wake up here again.”
The “parallel world of shadows” described in the poem is evoked powerfully by the limited palette of the images that emerge from the intense black background in each of these dozen paintings. The red of blood and muscle is overwhelmed by a radiant white that suggests the artificial light that replaces sunlight as the darkness increases, but neither color is meant to be illustratively literal. Biomorphic though these forms are, very few viewers not already familiar with the process of dressing the day’s kill could recognize exactly what is happening.
In fact, many of the forms are consciously arranged to bring other possibilities to mind; “Universe,” in particular, is an oval shape that gives rise to thoughts of the birth of worlds more than the death of an animal. “Yoknapatawpha,” on the other hand, despite its title’s allusion to William Faulkner’s mythic Mississippi county, is as brutally literal as these paintings get: the purpose of the plainly rendered bucket beneath the recognizable shape of the carcass is unmistakable.
This show marks the full emergence of an extraordinary new talent whose accomplishments have been largely unrecognized, despite her participation in exhibitions from the Hamptons to Hong Kong by way of Missouri. This first solo exhibition in Atlanta is as excellent an introduction as one could wish.
On our home page: Silver’s “Pelt”