By Betsy DiJulio

If contemporary Sci-Fi had a twisted tryst with 17th Century Italian Baroque, Alison Stinely’s paintings would be their disturbing love child.

She borrowed the title of her show, “Gilded Splinters,” from Dr. John’s song, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” which he has said was based on a traditional voodoo church song.  “Splinters” was supposed to have been “splendors,” but he is quoted as saying that he thought splinters sounded better and he always imagined splinters when he sang the song.

In Stinely’s intentionally excessive work, splendors and splinters, both metaphorical and real, proliferate.  An assistant professor of drawing and painting at ODU, this artist moves nimbly across boundaries: the biblical and the banal, the glorious and the grotesque, and the painted and the sculpted.  Mythology and personal experience attain an uneasy detente.  

After earning her MFA at Indiana University in 2013, Stinely recalls that her “brain was like scrambled eggs.”  She spent some time in Italy where the ceilings of Italian Baroque churches with their painted and sculpted illusions merging with reality created a dramatic and dynamic world filled with tension and visionary spectacle.  

Back in the US, Stinely’s Italian experience found its expression in dense figurative narratives that ooze off the canvases and onto the frames where they take the form of found, sculpted, and 3D modeled and printed forms.  Aggressive and, at times, grotesque, these forms are meant to intrude on the paintings.  Sometimes made of foam or rubber, the sculptural components may be painted, gold leafed, or dipped using a hydrographic process in which images on film are laid on the surface of water, allowing the film to dissolve and the pigment to adhere to the object as it is pushed up through the surface.

A longtime painter of human figures against a variety of backgrounds, Stinely’s “Gilded Splinters” focuses on three threads within her recent body of work (2015-2018): 1) large paintings devoted to the biblical Lilith; 2) similarly monumental paintings that chronical an epic battle between the sexes; and 3) smaller pieces in elaborate gold frames to which the artist refers as process-oriented “tabernacle” paintings.  The latter are portrait-based pieces with both real life and religious aspects that evoke 14th and 15th century Florentine paintings.  

Given the feminist stance in all of Stinely’s work, the choice of Lilith as a subject is hardly surprising.  Lilith, a figure in Jewish mythology, is believed by some to be Adam’s first wife who fled the Garden of Eden, and is associated with darkness, sensuality, and sexual wantonness.  Referencing her post-MFA “scrambled” brain, Stinely surmises that she gravitated to Lilith as “something to hook onto.”    

Describing this mythical female figure as one who is “emotionally loaded,” Stinely explains that, as an artist, she embraced and manipulated that content, finding parallels in contemporary culture.  The earlier Lilith-inspired work evolved within the last couple of years into a linear narrative peopled with figures, plants, and animals, though each painting stands on its own.   Not surprisingly, the women ultimately prevail in this fantastical war waged to the death.  

Using friends and relatives as models, Stinely photographs them, models and renders them digitally, and then faithfully replicates the complex compositions that result.  Common devices include obsessive layering, dramatic foreshortening, an unsettling slightly birds’ eye perspective, and stage-like colored lighting.  Though the artist largely works out all aspects of each painting through these digital “thumbnail sketches,” she allows herself latitude to adapt and investigate as she works on the canvas.  Especially in the smaller portraits, Stinely acknowledges that she is “trying to figure something out.”

Through her aggressive and acidic color palette, Stinely turns up the volume on the sexism that pervades her world in what she describes as “an insidious, quiet, and every-day way:  in the grocery store, in the parking lot, walking down the street.”  


Alison Stinely: Gilded Splinters

Through June 23

Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery

5435 Richmond Road, Williamsburg