THOUGHTS ON NANCY REBAL
Nancy Rebal, I’ve decided, has always painted in a sort of clear blue space between guilt and ecstasy. A place that’s hard to imagine very stable, much less clear and blue, and even less sustaining of a thirty-year career. Yet I have seen it. I have watched. The guilt I know about because she sometimes talks about it. Nothing incapacitating – just a kind of Puritanical ground state. General principle from childhood. A condition of existence and, who knows, perhaps especially of ecstasy which, here, is not the showy kind – no self-indulgent thrashings about to demonstrate intensity of feeling. Not aspired to in itself, in other words, but rather a means, almost a technique. She loses herself. She comes ungrounded (and less guilty, I am guessing) toward the object, toward a clearer, truer view of it by getting herself (ecstatically) out of the picture. Watching her paint is like watching a polygraph test. She recedes like a good interrogator. Though she tends to worry that her work is “all over the place.” So? Isn’t experience – much as rendered, realistic or abstracted, clearly legible or not – all over the place? All-over-the-placeness is a real, depictable thing. And, in her paintings, with an accuracy, a facility, a clarity running through. And there’s that actual glimpse of clear blue showing now and then in her work. I want to call it space. Ecstatic space. It is, I think, the space required for looking. And it is, after all, the looking, not the “look”, that is important. So unmodern, unselfconscious. That the pictures are not posing for themselves but actually looking into the world. Resisting style. Unless one stands enough away to understand them as a style of investigation. A kind of gaping at the world through different windows.
Lately there has been a change – a sort of expansion of the ecstatic, I want to say. A bursting out, as if those windows had been opened all at once. There is a more direct engagement of the messy, guilty world, its mundane properties. A grasping more than gaping. Paint now seems to tug at the canvas as if trying to open it up to see what’s there - as that facility, that hard-won ease and accuracy of gesture, gets subordinated, overwhelmed, enlisted to the urgency. That clear blue state of mind has been absolved I think, released to come to actual physical grips with things. The heft and touch of things. The simple stuff that, finally, naturally, comes to hand – not only paint but, suddenly, clay and wax and wood. And now with space to work it out. In a huge new studio on the third floor of a nineteenth-century Odd Fellows hall in Corsicana, Texas. Really. Corsicana, Texas. Where the trains run all night long and, we are told, each engineer performs – for miles right through the sleepless middle of town and well beyond, just leaning on it, blaring it out as if his life depended on it, into the dark – his own distinctive composition.