HOLLY FARRELL at Katharine Mulherin (1088 Queen West), to March 15. 416-536-8827. Rating: NNNN
Holly Farrell calls her still lifes portraits without any people in them.
These new paintings by the self-taught artist are spare, exquisitely focused studies of simple, often old objects. They’re meticulously painted domestic things that somehow convey the imprint of their owners.
As in portraiture, their overall impact often hinges on the smallest details. The olive wallpaper behind the yellow pumps in Shoes has a faint star pattern that speaks to their age, creating a palpable sense of history and narrative. In her painting of apothecary bottles, faded labels and turn-of-the-century shapes are enhanced by the addition of a few scattered blue pills.
The objects in these tightly controlled works often convey loneliness. A wall phone looks as if it’s waiting to be answered, and the furnishings in Couch and Chair seem to long for sitters.
Farrell’s work can also flirt with the kitschy fetishism of pop realism. Her brilliantly painted assortment of juice cups are a thrift store comber’s wet dream. Her Barbie and Ken dolls, though charmingly painted, teeter on the verge of glib parody.
There’s no denying her strength as a painter, however, when she gets it right.
Seeds allows a full dialogue between absence and presence to play out: the images on seed packets behind empty pots make the absent blossoms all the more palpable.