Suburbia is slightly sinister in Atlanta artist Meg Aubrey’s paintings. It’s a desolate place; as unnervingly serene, emotionally chilly and scrubbed of people as Edward Hopper’s lonely city streets. The cul de sacs and soccer fields Aubrey depicts in bold grasshopper greens, street sign yellows and bubblegum pinks are vast, foreboding spaces, free of background detail. Hallmarks of suburbia — vast green lawns, playing fields, sidewalks — end up looking like a minimalist stage set. The real action is in Aubrey’s character studies — vivid, nuanced portraits of the queen bees of this milieu: the wives and mothers who appear to do nothing with their days but play tennis, walk dogs, sip coffee and stand on the sidelines of their children’s sporting events.
Aubrey’s solo show “Domiciled” at Whitespace Gallery posits a strange, almost science fiction world ruled by women. But women of a very certain type: eyes shrouded by sunglasses, clad in tennis or jogging outfits, businesslike in their pursuit of leisure. The sunglasses and uniforms of sportswear do a good job of masking their individuality and personality: instead they blend into a “type.” The only men in sight are the two faceless yard workers, depicted in two 8-by-6-inch portraits, whose backs are turned away from us mowing the lawn or blowing leaves. The contrast of these ladies of leisure and those stocky men who do their lawn work clearly says something about economic division, one of many social commentaries that enrich this show.
Though her primary focus in “Domiciled” is portraits of these well-off suburban women, the show is all the better for the economic malaise that has seeped into the work. Aubrey allows subtle indications of deeper troubles to emerge in “Domiciled.” In “For Sale,” she paints a long, winding suburban road marked by identical AstroTurf green front lawns, brick-encased mailboxes and row after row of blue signs plunked in every front yard. There doesn’t need to be lettering on the signs for us to know these are sale signs and that the recession has hit even these prosperous streets. In “Space Available” it is more of the same: a manicured upscale strip mall that might house an Ann Taylor and a Restoration Hardware boasts an empty parking lot and gives a strong impression that the suburban boom has gone bust.
A deeply talented painter with a unique and spooky vision of one aspect of Atlanta’s landscape, Aubrey paints what she knows. Aubrey is also a resident of an Atlanta suburb and even depicts herself in several of the works. In her 40-by-60-inch painting “Damaged,” she is seen in hyper close-up, her eyes visible behind a large pair of sunglasses. Her lip bears an ugly bloody gash. Though the wound might summon up visions of domestic violence or even plastic surgery, in real life, Aubrey’s injury was the result of a dog bite. Like the indications of economic distress, it is an image that gives “Domiciled” its darker strain, suggesting that all is definitely not right beneath these placid, manicured surfaces.
Aubrey has tried something new in this solo show. She has decorated a long row of Starbucks-style paper coffee cups with pencil drawings of suburban women, all with their eyes blocked out by tinted sunglasses. Called “Coffee Time,” the installation is a bold move and Aubrey’s effort to try a different tack. Though she may not have intended it, those cups decorated with the chilly, masked women from her paintings suggest Aubrey’s world is its own brand, as identifiable in its own right as the look and taste of Starbucks coffee.
Through Oct. 13. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays. Whitespace Gallery, 814 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta. 404-688-1892, www.whitespace814.com
Bottom Line: A talented Atlanta painter documents the suburbs with an eerie precision.