When we are young, the world appears full of magic. We are the center of our universe- we know of little beyond our guided travels. Time equals now. The past is a vague sentiment alluded to in passing by patronizing adults. Of course, how could we fully grasp our place within history having only been a part of it for such a small time? As we age though, this credulity towards the significance of our present yellows and fades. The once glorified landmarks of our hometown no longer hold the same power. Knowledge broadens our scope and awakens our anxieties, ultimately rousing nostalgia for the innocence and the simplicity of what once appeared to be.
The paintings of Portland-based artist Ty Ennis on view for his solo exhibition The Marble Fountain at Nationale exist within this reflective tendency. Scenes culled from his recent memory are presented alongside a medley of melancholic dreams, holiday lore, and subtle references to aesthetic predecessors. In this manner, the various facts of Ennis’ biography unravel into a loose interpretation of what once was.
Unable to replicate the naive enchantment of his youth, Ennis’ work instead focuses on the indeterminacy of aging—the space between then and now, them and us, here and there. There is a pervasive feeling of looking in. We are rarely situated within the canvas but remain slightly disconnected by borders like a window or even a faint green frame. In Cinéma (Paris) and Cinéma No. 2, for example, Ennis recreates a simple scene that he encountered during a recent trip to France. Instead of freezing the moment’s objective particulars through a photograph, Ennis attempts to capture its aura, its subjective allure, through two paintings based solely on his now-faded recollection of the encounter. Perhaps mirroring this distance between the time of the scene’s occurrence and his painting of it, the work exudes a feeling of haziness. From across a pathway of hoary brushstrokes and through the outlines of a building’s façade, we glimpse the fuzzy silhouettes of two women at a local cinema. This physical remove, however, allows us little else in terms of interpretation. From such a distance, we remain lost in the unknown—do the two figures recognize one another’s presence? Are they friends conversing or separate individuals lost within their own quotidian reveries? We, as outsiders, can only speculate.
Analogous to this specific utilization of space, Ennis’ scenes often depict only the aftereffects of an action. In And so It Goes, he depicts two large, white pills left next to a half-empty glass of water and an overstuffed pink ashtray on a small table. A chair pushed away from the table suggests someone having recently gotten up. Outside of these minute indicators, there is nothing else within the frame for us to decipher. A window, for example, looks out only onto an opaque mass of white paint and the surrounding walls appear, meanwhile, like a void of a shadowy grey brushstrokes. Yet, despite this minimalism, the scene effectively evokes a familiar, forlorn impression of departure. Ennis seems to suggest that, like memories, the particulars matter less than the overall sensation.
In Yur’s, a man stands with one hand resting on a jukebox. His pose suggests that of someone waiting for their photo to be taken, thereby echoing the painted portrait that hangs by his head on a nearby wall. Through this visual parallel, Ennis evokes a larger conception of lineage—of the shift in time from ancestor to predecessor, from painting to photography, from fact to fiction.
Ennis further encourages this historicizing process throughout the exhibition by both his frequent use of a black and white palette and his loose painterly style. Viewed together in this manner, Ennis’ work, like adulthood, lacks a fixed center. It is nothing but an entropic, yet, deep down, still unbelievably magical force.
—Corey Mansfield, Los Angeles, CA
This commissioned essay is made possible by Career Opportunity Grants from both the Oregon Arts Commission and The Ford Family Foundation.