Thursday, June 18, 2009

Into the Cracks: A Review of Anya Antonovych Metcalf's "There is a Crack in Everything"

There is a crack in everything. I read the words first and then saw the paintings. I came from San Francisco, California to see them, really. From the street murals of the Bay Area all the way to The Hub on East Bay Street, Nassau, Bahamas, last Friday night. It’s a long way to travel to see cracks. Not everyone thinks there is something to be seen in the hairline fractures that cross tired walls and stained cement sidewalks like dry riverbeds. But Anya Antonovych Metcalf photographed, then painted them, made art from their portraits, hung them on walls so that we could look at them, into them, into the cracks.

I’m a writer, not a painter. I looked at them, paintings of jagged black lines crossing and circling and framing coloured spaces, and didn’t know what I was supposed to see. Abstraction scares me. For a moment. Till I begin to see things. Till I decide to see what I want to see. Till I decide to take charge of what I’m looking at. Why I’m drawn to this one that looks like fire, like a cave of fire and cracks all around. And this one over here, blue water blue, blue hole blue, pregnant belly blue, cracks circling the belly, the swollen space center of the cracks. In another a black chasm drips pale pink wetness across a smooth mustard landscape, and in another still, the gashes are smudged with greenness, something living trying to get out. Or in.

And then something clicked. These paintings, which had begun as portraits of concrete surfaces, became instead landscapes of the psyche. They were inner spaces as visceral as lung tissue and as necessary as dreams. They breathed. They expressed heat and cool, clean openings and rough surfaces and the tension between their differences was generative. What at first appeared broken and despairing now seemed swollen, full, pregnant. Sutures and awkward, ugly scars gave way to mossy filaments. The dripping of pink wetness against a dry wall of old facades seemed to suggest the possibility of rejuvenation. A halleluiah moment. Leonard Cohen crooned out of a black box or inside my own head.

If you want to know the truth, I have been one to stare at cracks. They call to me. They are insistent. They stare back. Cracks in walls suggest a way through them, suggest what might live behind them, unseen till the crack; a shift in the solidity of all that we know. That’s how the light gets in. What if these are cracks in our own psyches, and what might the light getting in illuminate? Cause to grow and swell and open to give birth? There is no definitive answer, but one can imagine. This is what the work of Anya Antonovych Metcalf accomplishes: faced with the distressed and neglected and weathered landscapes of the psyche, of course our own, we are compelled to imagine the possibility of renewal; the kind of renewal which is a transformation of the old into something not imagined before – before the crack, and the light getting in.

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