At Nationale: Still lifes gone wild

Katie Batten, Jonathan Casella, and Sarah Mikenis give a jolt to the old-fashioned still life in 'Everything We Ever Wanted'


Everything We Ever Wanted is chock full of so very much…so much color, so much pattern, and so much meticulous and labor intensive painting by artists Katie Batten, Jonathan Casella, and Sarah Mikenis, that the Nationale gallery is literally set aglow. The blazing hues, abundant accumulations of pattern, and unexpected compositions dare to redefine still life—a genre usually reserved for the staid, static, self-restrained starch and rarely associated with young contemporary artists.

Sarah Mikenis, 'Everything We Always Wanted', 2014, oil on canvas, 48 x 42"

Sarah Mikenis, ‘Everything We Always Wanted’, 2014, oil on canvas, 48 x 42″

The show is titled after Sarah Mikenis’ piece of the same name, which more-or-less reads as still life, but with a dizzying amount of information and untraditional choice of subject and composition. Using the internet as a source for her elaborate cacophony of patterned materials, Mikenis painstakingly paints each item in a pile of dotted, striped, and ruffled textiles backgrounded by intricately patterned wallpaper, and on a floor of similar complexity. The works are one part laundry pile, one part muppet-like creation, one part joy in the ability to have it all. Among the neon glow of the other works in Everything We Ever Wanted, the predominantly desaturated palette of Mikenis’ work softens the frenetic quality of both her own work and the show as a whole, creating impressive balance and acting as a keystone in the gallery.

Katie Batten, You Also Have a Pizza, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 34”

Katie Batten, You Also Have a Pizza, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 34”

Katie Batten’s vibrant paintings also play with the tradition of still life, but with clear indication of her generation. From the inclusion of technology to a cheerful, poppy, Lisa Frank palette, the work drips with millennialism. The paintings play off tropes of the classic still life by depicting glassware and food and by flattening the composition. However, instead of fruit and a candle, Batten offers a slice of pizza and an iPhone, and instead of silver and tulips, she employs Ball jars and carnations. The works appear serene and perhaps autobiographical in their particularity.

Jonathan Casella, The Fizz, 2015, acrylic on panel, 30.5 x 24”

Jonathan Casella, The Fizz, 2015, acrylic on panel, 30.5 x 24”

Given the context of the rest of the group show, Jonathan Casella’s work becomes a distillation of still life, in which form and figuration are almost entirely removed. What remains is an explosion of color, shape, line, and pattern that absolutely radiates within the gallery. In a rare visual reprieve, his piece The Fizz has an area of solid fluorescent peach covering the lower half, which functions almost like a surface or table for the shapes and patterns of the upper portion to rest upon. Otherwise the works are abuzz with intricately woven line work, carefully sprayed dot patterns, torn edges of paper or perhaps tape, and paint that appears to be layered and collaged onto the work as much as it is painted on. The pieces take on a dimensional tactility in their frenetic flurry.

Unlike a traditional bottle, bowl, and fruit motif, the objects of the still lifes in Everything We Ever Wanted lend a degree of specificity that suggest unique personality—the tableaus are alive with vibrant individuality. Wearing similar palettes and styles, the paintings appear that they might be of the same social circle, happily coexisting in the gallery. There is a casual and good humored tone to their rapport as they rest comfortably among patterned linens, enjoy a snack, and leaf leisurely through the pages of Artforum. But as casual as the mood might be, the show is absolutely worth taking seriously. The trio of artists create richly layered works that build and reveal, grow and shift, creating an ever changing viewing experience that seeks to offer everything you ever wanted, and comes close at least for a time.

Katie Batten is a Philadelphia-based artist from Chicago who received her BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2012. She has shown at galleries around the country. Jonathan Casella was born in Texas and now resides in Portland, Oregon. He studied art in San Francisco and has shown in the U.S. and Montréal. Sarah Mikenis is a Portland native who currently lives and works in Eugene while pursuing her MFA at the University of Oregon. She is a member of Ditch Projects.

Everything We Ever Wanted is on display at Nationale, noon-6 pm (closed Tuesdays), 3360 SE Division, through July 6.

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