Elaine Reichek at Shoshana Wayne Gallery

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New York-based artist Elaine Reichek looks to the ancients for her latest source material, which means we as viewers get to refresh our knowledge of Greek mythology. Her current show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery is Minoan Girls, referring to the original bad girls: Pasiphae, her daughters Phaedra and Ariadne, and their grandmother, Europa. (Scholars of this material, correct me if I’m wrong!)

Elaine Reichek, "The Theseus Paradox," 2015
Hand embroidery on printed needlepoint canvas; 37 1/2" x 31 1/4" x 1 1/2"
Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

This is a sequel to last month’s show at the gallery Ariadne’s Thread but it still concerns Reichek’s signature technique of embroidery and needlepoint using thread to literally tease out strands of the story. Though there are many versions, the myth of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, has her falling in love with Theseus and providing him with a spool of red thread so that he can escape the labyrinth after he slays the dreaded Minotaur. Theseus does as he promised, taking Ariadne away from her home on Crete but then abandons her. As she lies sleeping, she is discovered by the Greek God Dionysius, who marries her, making her into a Goddess and, unlike his immortal peers, remaining faithful to her. The family drama continues, however, as Ariadne’s younger sister Phadra is the one to marry Theseus. But then she falls in love with Theseus’ son Hippolyte leading to more tragedy. No need to know the whole saga. Reichek combines her mostly embroidered images with quotes about these tales ranging from ancient Ovid to modern authors and historians.

Elaine Reichek, "Perhaps My Love," 2012
Hand embroidery on linen; 35 1/4" x 38" x 1 3/4"
Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Reichek has been using thread to make art since the 1970’s when activities derided as mere women’s work were elevated by the women’s movement to the realm of high art. Reichek had trained as a painter at Yale and transferred her formal and conceptual interests into the medium of embroidery.

Elaine Reichek, "Minoan Family Tree," 2014
Hand embroidery on linen; 24" x 22 1/8" x 1 1/4"
Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

The intertwined relationships of Greek myths and the subjects of her art are embroidered on linen in Minoan Family Tree (2014), names embedded into the coiling branches of a tree-motif lifted from a mural by modern Austrian Gustav Klimt. These stories are represented century after century in Western art history. Reichek re-claims them for the present.

Elaine Reichek, "Rape of Europa -Tizian," 2016
Tapestry; 93" x 102"
Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery

This is quite literally true in a pair of tapestries depicting the scene of Europa, the mother of King Minos, being carried away by Zeus in the guise of a white bull. Her tapestries present, side by side, her own recreation of the 16th century version painted by Titian and the almost identical 17th century copy of the scene painted by Rubens. Reichek has insinuated herself into that lineage knowing that we no longer view that scene with the knowledge of ancient history that would have been standard for an educated viewer of the Renaissance and with a considerably different perspective on the perennially popular theme in painting, The Rape of Europa, even if she did wind up queen of Crete and have an entire continent named after her.

In these and other works, Reichek’s art reverberates with multiple meanings and possible interpretations without losing subtlety. This worthy show is on view through July 2.

While at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, it is also worth a stop at Craig Krull Gallery to see the charming still life paintings of Dan McCleary as well as Phase 2 of the epic Ed Moses presentation at William Turner Gallery.