Cynthia Talmadge's Seven Sisters Pool Painting
In Cynthia Talmadge’s latest work, Seven Sisters Pool Painting, an eerily empty indoor pool is covered by a gable ceiling and decorated by two strings of yellow flags, which read BRYN MAWR. The pool is a site for athletic competition, and the school is amongst the Seven Sisters, a group of historically women’s liberal arts colleges in the Northeast.
The large, liminal space is rendered in Talmadge’s signature pointillist style. The laboriously painted surface consists of small dots of colored sand that blend together at a distance. The sand-painting technique has long been associated with arts and crafts; the ornamental surface recalls the feminine associations of its subject. The precise dots of colored sand almost exceed the visual, enveloping other senses: the harsh smell of chlorine, the lonely sound of an echo.
Absent from the composition are the presumed occupants of the space: the students. Or, the painting could be interpreted from the perspective of an imagined student, deserted on campus during winter break, preparing to submerge herself into the water. The atmosphere of the room remains cool despite, or because of, the excess of light: sun streaming in through the windows, reflections shimmering atop the pool’s surface, and hanging lights still lit for students nowhere to be found.
On the right side of the composition, what at first appear to be birds seen through windows soon reveal themselves as stickers of birds—used to prevent real birds from crashing into the windows. The subtle distinction between real and representation gestures toward the room’s present absence, an internal opposition between individual and institution, and the fragile line between life and death.
The women’s college, for Talmadge, appears neither utopic nor dystopic, but a space of complexity: home to epiphany and isolation, hope and tragedy. Or, in the artist’s own words, the painting details an interest in “public facing institutions being the site of very private existential meltdowns or metaphysical epiphanies.”
The painting extends an ongoing investigation of spatial-material remnants of hidden psychological turmoil. As in Seven Sisters Pool Painting, Talmadge’s other paintings, sculptures, and installations render objects, rooms, and spaces left behind, abandoned, or otherwise forgotten by individuals and institutions. The artist maps human affects and absence onto inanimate, seemingly mundane physical forms. In doing so, Cynthia Talmadge spacializes heightened emotional states, mediated portrayals of those states, and the places where both converge.
Artwork description for 56 Henry