Tara Costello’s richly painted panels have a sensibility of recollection — a feeling that you, the viewer, may have seen them somewhere before. You probably have seen her work before if you live in the Twin Cities; a seasoned member of Minneapolis longest-running collective, Rosalux, Tara has exhibited there since 2003. Or perhaps you’ve been to the place her landscapes point to, a nondescript someplace that locates the viewer in a feeling rather than a specific destination. Or perhaps you are familiar with the legacy of abstraction; you may recognize materials and surfaces that look like art objects, with a kind of family resemblance. Tara Costello’s work is produced with and recalls in layers.
Through varying compositional strategies, Tara’s paintings vacillate between familiar and unfamiliar territories, and they invite her viewers to both enter, and then distance themselves from the latitudes she creates. While she uses a painter’s vocabulary, Tara’s facility with the medium comes from an atypical background, in commercial interiors and printmaking, giving her handling of the paint a distinct physicality and awareness for her materials.
Historically, painters parted with painting-as-illusion by exposing the medium’s viscous and drippy nature, or by revealing the tools and process of painting through loose brushwork and exposed canvas. Costello is not working in brushes and canvas. Instead, she applies pigment in Venetian plaster, an interior technique that combines plaster and marble-dust, allowing for rich variances in texture, surface and finish, through application and finishing treatments. Costello uses a trowel to apply the plaster atop wood paneling, working on both constructed and found substrates. She mashes on thick, sludgy layers, then levels them, at times planning for taped off areas of color, other times improvising, allowing pigments and materials to blend in broad swipes, catching on each other, piling and separating, creating grained surfaces like Richter’s squeegeed abstract canvases.
After applying the plaster and working her surfaces, Costello approaches them with a burnishing tool as an oil painter might varnish their surface with a glossy topcoat. The burnishing tool smooths the rough surfaces of the gritty marble dust and creates a glassy, mirrored surface. Through selective burnishing, Costello’s contrasting matte and opalescent surfaces achieve a mirage of depth that can only be detected through a personal encounter, varying from lush, velvety, or shimmering, to organic, raw, muddy, and silt-y.
Beyond its surface attributes, working in plaster gives Costello a level of comfort and incautiousness in approaching her paintings — sometimes working subtractively, tearing back into the plaster with a trowel, perhaps a violent action but also a mark that resonates with the artist’s background as a printmaker. She can also work over these surfaces, repairing any damage, dents, or cuts with a smooth reapplication of plaster, like one might repair a wall with more efficient materials. The metaphors of building, repairing and covering in her work style point to the emotional range of material itself.
Regarding composition, we see Costello audition styles of mid-century American abstraction, discovering these forms and resolving modes of production on her own. The artist works free of historical association in favor of using these methods as a platform for working through emotion and the physical nature of plaster.
In form, Costello’s earlier work emerges from the tradition of abstract expressionism rooted in landscape. She works spontaneously in her handling and with compositional flexibility, producing mutated horizons, detectable pools of bodies of water, splashes of natural and reflected light, all through non-local color. She describes her work as hinting at the feel of the place – an ‘ineffable,’ emotional place – which for Tara is largely autobiographical. Sometimes she geolocates us to the Ballyvaughn’s rolling green hills and shimmering limestone coasts or other times we are third party to a romantic break-up.
Her work evolves into cropped portions, zoomed-in spaces in the landscape. Trees become geometry; lakes become swaths of color; rectangles are characters for barns, trees, amidst color fields. This level of reduction of her subject is akin to the push-pull of first generation abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman, or aerial landscapes of second generation Ab-Exer Richard Diebenkorn.
Tara’s most recent work takes a more non-objective, but stylized turn. Her rich velvety black panels recall Harvey Quaytman’s geometric arrangements or the intense black on black of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. Little color is introduced — perhaps white, or a single shade of green. For Costello, these panels are also emotional, but a means of issuing controlled emotion, providing her with order during personal disorder or emotional challenges. She approaches these panels with a design strategy, but leaves elements of surface and handling to chance and reaction as she continues to work through the piece.
More on Tara Costello
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