Wrapped tightly — and expertly — around her wooden frames, the thrift store-sourced bedsheets Starz uses as the basis of her artworks vary, from lush Laura Ashley-style floral prints to delicate, feminine patterns with tiny flower buds and ivy tendrils that will remind many of childhood bedrooms. The botanical theme is consistent throughout her solo show "Cold Comfort" at Beep Beep Gallery, giving the artist's work a decidedly feminine cast.
In addition to her unusual choice of material, Starz subverts formal expectations in other ways, often using round, pennant and star shapes formed from interlocking wood sections covered in fabric that fit together like puzzle pieces, in lieu of the traditional square works on canvas or panel. Those formal choices give “Cold Comfort” a unique look and attitude.
Starz uses her floral patterns as backdrops for some often-incongruous action. In her most arresting works, “Conflict Management I” and “Conflict Management II,” two wolves with their fangs bared face off, ready to attack. Their mouths appear to spit clusters of posies, like a puff of pretty smoke. Those two works are by far the best in the exhibition for their shocking contrast of delicacy and ferocity.
In other paintings, Starz allows the flower patterns to bleed through, to fill in the human figures in works like “End of the Line,” where a woman talks on a retro telephone, a lively flowery print composing her body and dress. In “Snake in the Grass,” an alabaster serpent’s skin looks tattooed with the floral print that peeks through from the bedsheet below. This erasure of borders can give a ghostly, evanescent cast to the figures and creatures in Starz’s world, who seem only partly formed, fading in and out of view, threatening to be absorbed into the patterns that underlie them.
Starz’s ideas are similarly evanescent, never fully formed, but suggesting an interest in human interactions, and fluctuating moments of conflict or harmony. Starz demonstrates a high level of visual skill, especially in rendering her animal forms, but “Cold Comfort” would be far more satisfying with a more fully formed theme.
“Cold Comfort” is a small showing of works that often play with ideas of twinning, of intertwined female bodies and bookend sets of wolves. A bit of a digression from those ideas comes in the rear gallery at Beep Beep where Starz has crafted a less successful work reminiscent of quilt patterns that seems like an afterthought. A central shape of interlocking diamonds covered in bedsheets spins off smaller satellite diamonds in solid colors like an exploding star.
While in a scrappy, independent space like Beep Beep you expect a certain amount of rough-around-the-edges ambiance, it was a disappointment to see some of those Velcro-mounted pieces composing that back room installation sitting dejectedly on a chair, having fallen off the wall. It’s an issue that could have been easily remedied, and when it isn’t, it doesn’t represent the artist or the gallery in the best light.