Charles Dee Mitchell
You wouldn’t expect an artist in the year 2008 to wake in the morning and say to himself or herself, “Today I am going to make a painting of a bird.” Aren’t they supposed to be hacking into computer code or working out the logistics of 15-channel video presentations?
But Carrie Marill goes to her studio every day and paints birds, and, judging from her exhibition at Conduit Gallery, it is something she does very well.
She works in gouache on uniformly sized sheets of 12-by-9-inch paper, placing either the entire animal or its most telling features on a background she leaves largely white. Ms. Marill, although she is scrupulously faithful to the details of the birds she depicts, is no Audubon. She doesn’t offer a great deal of environment in her gouaches, and the few tree limbs that appear are there for compositional effect rather than environmental information.
Ms. Marill painted these birds while at an artists residency in Steamboat Springs, Colo., so she had considerably more species to choose from than the grackles and sparrows that populate my yard in Dallas. And she presents the birds as portraits, but without turning them into human caricatures.
Her solemn Turkey Vulture is shown in profile, resigned to the grim duty of feeding off carrion. The slender, arching neck of an American White-Necked Pelican is almost invisible against the white paper, whereas her Magpie stares belligerently at the viewer. The work can also be humorous while staying true to the nature of her subjects. The Female of a Red Wing Blackbird, which incidentally turns out to be a small brown bird, is comically spread-eagled between two tiny twigs.
This is technically sophisticated and witty work and one of those small pleasures we look for in the summer heat