– by Blue Greenberg, critic for The Durham Herald-Sun, reviewing a 2004 solo show at Somerhill Gallery, Chapel Hill, NC

“Kathleen Jardine’s densely packed interiors where the young male or female model seem totally disengaged from the scene, are well known in the area. These carefully detailed narratives are the artist’s signature style, and while they seem so close to reality, they are impossible to understand completely.

For example, in the large oil, The Cat and Her Infant Opossum, we see the lower body of a nude man ironing while a beautiful male teenager relaxes on a multi-colored, tasseled carpet. The cat that is visibly ready to nurture kittens carries a possum on her back. Scattered on the floor are paper snowflakes, while shadows criss-cross a surface filled with vibrant color. It is a scene that invites speculation and tongue-wagging, but the artist gives us very few clues.

Under the Hunter is another one that goes on in a similar vein. On the floor is the hunting bow; the arrow and a doll with no clothes share a low table. The same beautiful teenager sits in a chair and a very pregnant dog sprawls on his lap. Above him, in a picture, a toddler holds a TV remote control, and in another room a man sweeps the floor. As in all her paintings, the models are in their own worlds. Not only are they separated from their surroundings, but they have no contact with the viewer. Their eyes may look toward us, but it is a vacant stare; their minds are elsewhere. In a statement released by the gallery, Jardine writes, “A lot of what I do is not literal in spite of my looking closely at things.”

Jardine’s models are not limited to young boys; young girls and women share other compositions. Little Lily and the Terrors of Christendom offers a different theme. Lily sits at a table, vegetable peeler in hand, about to work on the radishes and carrots that lie about. Lush greens dominate the composition with its frayed wall tapestry woven with 15th century Christian imagery of feudal kings, serpents and fluttering angels. Notes on the wall are covered with pictures of vegetables and illegible quotations.

In Le Moyenage a nude young woman, whose hair streams over her body in blonde ringlets, lies on a divan in a room crowded with abundant greenery. Embedded in the rich blue walls are a stained glass window and a reproduction of the unicorn. Added to all that symbolism are shoes on the floor that call to mind Flemish paintings.

Jardine’s paintings cover subjects that flirt with youthful innocence and religious prohibitions. She quotes art history in a consumer world that overflows with things. The connections between human sexuality and love continually edge into the viewer’s consciousness. You see it in a poster pinned to a wall that calls for ‘‘Free Love". You also see those connections in art historical images of the prehistoric ‘Venus of Willendorf’ and the renaissance Adam and Eve running in terror from the Garden of Eden. And threaded through each of these compositions are overripe fruit and flowers, long understood as symbols of fertility.

So what are we to make of Jardine’s detailed paintings? She writes that her first drawing was of her mother nude, walking a poodle, and that she returned to school at 40 to get an MFA after she had already taught herself to paint. She adds that “ my son’s birth was the real making of me as an artist” and that he has been her main subject. From her own words her paintings begin with the very personal but ultimately touch something in each of us. Innocence vs. experience is a universal topic and caries with it as many different interpretations as there are people who will see her exhibitions.

Whatever the theme, there are the paintings themselves to be considered. They are packed and layered with richly colored paint on complex surfaces that have been worked and reworked. Jardine writes that one idea brings on another and that her painting is not an act of reason, but an act of dictation. Like many artists, she claims to be just the vehicle and that at some point the painting takes on a life of its own.

The exhibition also includes small gem-like paintings of domestic interiors – a corner with an antique table, the dining room set for one, kitchen shelves – that spotlight domestic tranquility, not the precariousness of childhood.

She also paints landscapes that share the rich color palette of her other work. However, they have none of the edgy elegance we have come to expect.

Jardine’s work seems easy. What is so hard about realism? But as she layers her paint, so does she layer her meaning. The viewer needs time to peel it down to its core.

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