Juliana Ellman makes eerily patient, slightly sinister works on paper that take a very long time really to see. An example from her solo début is Fountain (all works 2002), an image of an ornate quatrefoil fountain in a formal, Versailles-like garden. Painted in puce with mint-green water, the fountain sits in an atmospheric green oval field like a toy inside an Easter egg. But its base is white - not painted white, but just the matt, toothy paper on which everything else is drawn and painted. Ellman doesn't wipe away pigment in order to expose the paper (which would bear the loaded gesture of erasure) but simply leaves the area blank. However, this untouched expanse remains active, working (conceptually, sculpturally, visually), the hinge between surface and its support. To complicate further the way she plays with edges and expanses through facture and touch, Ellman applies white pigment over the entire surface of the fountain image: a sinuous trail of gouache and medium becomes three stiff bands of barbed concertina wire through which the fountain comes into focus.
In Shrine votive candles of varying heights and colours crowd a vase filled with white carnations on willowy grey-green stems against a brilliant peacock-blue ground. The flower stems cut across the circular tops of the candles, weaving through steady Day-Glo orange flames. The tableau looks like a combination of a teenager's cluttered desk and a roadside memorial. Ellman leaves the white vase and carnation blossoms untouched, just bare paper again, weirdly able to occlude parts of candles with blossoms that haven't exactly been brought into existence. This oscillation between what is and isn't quite there becomes thematic in Falling Trees. A square blue fabric panel stretches across a dull, dark road punctuated by red dividing lines. A shiny gold beer tab glitters, and milky puddles collect in the road. More metallic gold highlights the grommets that connect the panel to its standing frame, bigger and prettier than a road sign but similar to one. The pale blue panel bears a legend, two spindly white trees bending towards one another, their leafless branches intertwining like a tumbleweed with legs. But there are no other trees in sight, except for the ones painted on the panel, the stand-in for the falling trees themselves.
The only true interior scene in Ellman's show is Venus Fly Trap, an almost completely black image with the brilliant carnivorous plant curling up from the bottom edge in layers of salmon and black. Beyond the plant hangs a black rattan basket chair with a maroon seat cushion suspended from a neon pink chain. On a white table to the left a red hamster cage sits empty. Like most of Ellman's other works, this scene appears silent. The hamster's treadmill is still; the chair is empty; the flesh-eating plant, although fantastically alive-looking, is also visually quiet. (Even the water in Fountain falls seemingly without sound.)
Whether silent or stifled scenes are her point, Ellman returns to them. In Satellite, her largest work in this show, she sets a giant white satellite dish against a bright red horizon and dark green sky. Dozens of feathers flutter around the dish like snowflakes twirling in a globe (an object she rendered in an earlier work). Seemingly unconcerned with the containment that centralized her other works (a closed fountain, candles in jars, a blocked road, a plant's mouth, a cage, a cocoon-like chair), Ellman allows the feathers to fly without direction, not falling but not floating to the sky either. The state of in-between, and not either/or, may be where Ellman's curious work should stay and hang out a while.
First published in Issue 74