Sophie Larrimore at Nationale: Glimpses and sensations


Especially if you’re an Instagram user, you might be keenly aware of the fact of the increasing ubiquity of images, the preoccupation that people seem to have with content. I think a lot gets lost when we fall into the kind of materialism that goes along with viewing, documenting, ‘using’ things in this way—with pics, snaps, posts. That’s not to say it isn’t fun or flatout unworthy of our time. But to express an impression by way of, say, painting—an act that takes invariably longer, with more concerted effort than snapping a pic—can convey the deeper sense of content that the medium brings to bear. I think that’s why I keep coming back to looking at paintings, why so many do.

This past weekend, I saw a series of paintings by New Yorker Sophie Larrimore, in her exhibition at Nationale titled Sunday Painting. Looking at her work, which continues at Nationale through November 26, I’m reminded of Willem de Kooning’s puzzling statement that “content is a glimpse” and all that it implies—and also what it doesn’t. The curious forms in Larrimore’s paintings appear, then seem to go away, replaced only by contours and shapes, to return again looking somehow more intact than before. The world these forms inhabit is a magic one, clearly composed in similar fashion. And by magic, I of course mean the ordinary, deliberate, rigorous, but altogether impossible work, made to cause enchantment, bewilderment, that a visual artist like Larrimore does. This kind of content, made out of sensation, gives way to further sensation.

Not thinking too much about the title, “Sunday Painting”—or the fact that the paintings are generally pleasant at a glance, evoking a certain leisure that’s rarified, a little hard to come by—I walked up to the series trying to see each object at face value. The eight I focused on in the show are acrylic on linen stretched over wooden frames, and the paint has been mixed with an additive called Roll-a-Tex. Looking at these pictures, a dog, even a hint of a dog, a glimmer of one, evokes distinct, various feelings, including hilarity for one. Because of the current image glut mentioned above, I find looking at visual art in “real life” to be all the more moving, and in the best cases, startling. In Larrimore’s case, you really can’t just go online and look at .jpegs of these Sunday paintings and expect at all to really see them, not at all. In person, they’re as full of life as moving pictures are, and they’re as strange, as charming as life can be (on a very good day).

Sophie Larrimore, “Evening”, acrylic and Roll-A-Tex on linen, 2017, 16-by-13 inches


Focusing on the first painting, Evening (2016), I didn’t quite see a “dog,” though I’d come to find that each of the pictures features what totally looks to be a very lanky, however otherworldly, poodle or like breed. Evening is a scene that defies any recognizable sense of space, giving bird’s eye and horizontal views simultaneously, with an eye-boggling blue-green stream that seems to visibly flow, moving from that vertical position to horizontal, where it pours downward to turn and rest along the linen’s bottom edge. The latter produces an effect that’s as calming and hospitable as any twilit stream, and a little hypnagogic.

There’s a curious cement-and-green-gray X in the top third of the painting, one of only a few shapes in the show that aren’t plushly curvilinear. To my eye, that’s what seems to make the water look like it’s really moving. It causes you to want to look away, look back, away, etc. The pulsing, advancing effect of both dogs’ red and pink hues probably lend a hand to this illusory current. Well, that and the wavy lines adjacent to transfixing blues and greens. (The proximity, the juxtaposition of all these hues makes one want to consult Joseph Albers to be sure.)

Sophie Larrimore, “Sunday Painting” at Nationale

It’s all very warpy, trippy. Until taking note of some cute, bare brown feet at the top of the frame, I couldn’t quite place how the forms were situated at all. The moon breaking through the hedge at top left, an equally satisfying destination, is set into a dizzying situation. Night is falling over this strange dog-centered town, and you completely forget (I did anyway) about your surroundings, stranded in an unfamiliar evening made by the breezy candor of Larrimore’s strokes. She’s found her own kind of anamorphosis with these curious streams and her contorted, soft-cubist pups. Maybe it’s softism.

It’s funny how pictures like these change, reveal themselves anew the longer you look at them, and then change again upon next visit. Larrimore’s Sunday paintings are teeming with life, even a little hedonism, and their hues make the paintings vibrate, taking on a very lifelike aura of their own. This is a material result; it’s the Roll-a-Tex that gives these surfaces a fuzzy hint of light and dimension that unaltered paint doesn’t. It’s one reason that seeing this show in person is a must—they’re completely different works than their mediated cousin, the .img.

Having had a look at some of Larrimore’s other work online, there’s, maybe, an interest in classical forms that appear on amphorae and other Greek artifacts. But here, any adaptation of those tropes is scarcely discernible. Larrimore seems to have discretely absorbed those and other influences, harmonizing them with her own styles. Stylized forms are given over to flourishes of color, reimagined and modeled to look really like nothing else—barely like the dogs, moons, streams, hands and feet they evoke.

Sophie Larrimore, “White Rope”, acrylic and Roll-A-Tex on linen, 2017, 12-by-15 inches

Speaking of influence, or rather a sendup of tropes that are canonically prescribed to influence, my favorite part of this show is Larrimore’s odalisque, White Rope (2016) parodied in step with Manet. It’s one of the wittiest painted scenes I’ve recently seen—wherein a sassy dog’s shapely form reclines, posing ass-up poolside on a red towel. The peculiar leitmotif of the gray X returns here, along with the brown fingers that frequent this series, sometimes along with arms and feet. These shapes and forms might be there to direct your eye—the fingers point toward the dog, in a kind of worshipful way—but on the other hand, the X is way down at bottom left, somewhat unaccountably. It’s strange, too, that the hands that hover (as in a seance?) over our lavender odalisque, seem to be over a painting within a painting — the horizon that breaks/disjoins the space.

The enigmatic traits of Larrimore’s work are predominantly, to me anyway, what make the exhibition so worthy of a visit, ennobling a vision of life that’s still various, shapely, wild, silly, elastic, full of light (color). This show is full of dreamy-eyed glimpses of another world, one that I for one haven’t seen before.

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