A joyous celebration of self in emerging painter’s solo show

Ariel Dannielle’s detail-rich work shows the beauty, love and pleasure in black life.
"We Adapt" acrylic on canvas (2020) by Ariel Dannielle, the subject of a solo exhibition "It Started So Simple" at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
Courtesy of MOCA GA

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

"We Adapt" acrylic on canvas (2020) by Ariel Dannielle, the subject of a solo exhibition "It Started So Simple" at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Courtesy of MOCA GA

The perfect show for our quarantine age, Ariel Dannielle’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, “It Started So Simple” features detail-rich acrylic paintings devoted to beauty rituals, supermarket wine, pampering, cozy beds and all the self-care rituals that have buoyed us through these painful times.

But for Dannielle, it’s more than COVID-related coping.

One of three winners of a 2019/2021 MOCA GA Working Artist Project award, Dannielle’s solo painting show is a self-love homage to “me” time, to friendship and love, and all the things that offer sustenance in a world that has made it hard for Black women. It is a reclamation of self and an assertion of beauty and femininity in their many forms.

Dannielle’s sassy 21st-century twist on Leonardo da Vinci’s mural painting “The Last Supper” titled “Cheers To You, Friendsgiving” (2019) is a characteristically charming, evocative portrait of female friendship where a table of young women, Black and white, are arranged at a long table drinking boxed wine out of red solo cups before a spread of casseroles.

The winner of a Working Artist Project award from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Ariel Dannielle's paintings including "To Keep Secure From Danger or Against Attack" in acrylic on canvas are on view at the museum.
Courtesy of MOCA GA

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Despite touchstones like a face mask and a general sense of solitude in several of the works, Danielle’s paintings are free of angst or complaint. Instead, these are joyous, self-affirming, cathartic works alive with color and telling, contemporary detail. All feature the artist herself, hazel-eyed and self-assured, gazing out at the viewer to assert her point of view.

Dannielle is undeniably the star of this show, taking the paintbrush in her hand, and remaking the world the way she wants to see it. In Dannielle’s paintings, the artist is often shown surveying herself, checking out her reflection in the mirror or a cell phone or on a computer screen. At every turn in these paintings, she deflects the viewers’ effort to make her into an object, because she is so defiantly in the driver’s seat.

It’s a refreshing, even thrilling turnaround to see a female artist so in control of her identity and relishing the simple pleasures of her life. In “I Dream of Crimson Nights” the artist, dressed up for a date with herself, sits in the center of a bustling restaurant enjoying a solo sushi dinner. It’s a single lady’s ode to the pleasure of making your own choices and taking time for yourself. And in “A Glittery Veil” the artist sits at her makeup table littered with a litany of self-care staples. She deftly chronicles the trappings of a certain sliver of modern, female existence. In her glitter eye makeup and cropped blonde hair, Dannielle is neither siren nor odalisque, muse nor mother or any of the familiar tropes from art history. Instead, she applies her Glossier lip gloss, constructing her own identity and how she wants to be seen.

When a man enters the scene, in “Be Safe Part Two” (2020) even that feels subversive and crafted from a female vantage. The artist sits behind a buff young man, wrapping her arms around him in a proprietary hug. His perfect, tattooed torso is the focal point of the painting, and he becomes an eroticized figure for female delectation.

“We Adapt” (2020) is another utterly relatable snapshot of contemporary life featuring the artist in a colorful robe and charcoal face mask kneeling on her bed with a glass of wine in hand and watching herself on a computer screen. It is a statement about the ways we communicate and get through quarantine, but more fundamentally, it is about what Black women have always done, carving out time and space for themselves, “thriving and not just surviving” Dannielle says in her artist’s statement. “I don’t want to be defined by trauma.”


“Ariel Dannielle: It Started So Simple”

Through Jan. 16, 2021. Noon-4 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. $5 non-members; free for members, military and veterans and children 6 and under. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett Street, Suite M1, Atlanta. 404-367-8700, mocaga.org

Bottom Line: A joyous, cathartic show about self-love from a talented rising Atlanta painter.