American Painter Dorothea Tanning’s show at Alison Jacques is another show by a senior life partner of a famous artists. Other cases are Carmen Herrera at Lisson (ex wife of Wilfredo Lam) and Luiz Servini (husband of Beatriz Milhaes) to give just two examples. The works shown are uneven. They evidence, however, a preoccupation for the construction of pictorial space through tonal and textural constrasts.


Dorothea Tanning was at the epicenter of surrealist power after she married Max Ernst in 1946. She lived till the age of 101.Setting the tone for this dreamy show of paintings and drawings, which span 50 years, is a black-and-white photograph of Tanning taken by Robert Motherwell in 1945. She looks like the high priestess she was in a rather mystic circle like Surrealism. In her paintings and drawings, meanwhile, Tanning’s protagonist is a faceless female figure, either accompanied by an oversized dog – modelled on the artist’s own canine companion – or biomorphic forms.


A bit like hallucinations, the paintings drift between fantasies and nightmares. Multiple beings are set against a backdrop bursting with colour in ‘Même les jeunes filles (Even the Young Girls)’ (1966), yet there’s no clear indication of the action taking place: is this a joyous moment or a fray? ‘Notes for an Apocalypse’ (1978) certainly alludes to a sinister encounter taking place under a linen-covered table. Yet ‘Reality’ (1973-’93) looks like a hazy Sunday afternoon spent relaxing with a pet pooch.


Having said this, her works function at the level of vibration created through a series of visual oppositions achieved through brushwork and a rather narrow palette. This is why her drawings just do not work. She cannot achieve that sense of the uncanny without the texture that brushwork and colour convey. I liked this show. J A T