Artist Jacqueline Ehlis’ house of mirrors

Jacqueline Ehlis, “A Space Without Time”
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four stars

Breathe Onto the Mirror Through November 8; Monday-Thurs-day, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The Studio at Sahara West Library, 702-507-3630.

It’s sly, her art. Yeah, sure—the pretty colors suggest whimsy, but Jacqueline Ehlis’ Breathe Onto The Mirror is not about whimsy. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit about childhood and fun and vintage neon and fabulous Las Vegas and lollipops and even Dave Hickey, but stopping there misses the point. Something deeper is going on in these sculptures, wall works and mixed-media paintings inside the Studio at Sahara West Library. Something serious, something those dandy-candy hues seem at first to conceal but in fact accentuate.

Ehlis' "Starting Long Before That: All That Glitters"

Consider, for example, how carefully Ehlis welcomes viewers into a happy house of mirrors. Two vivid works literally scale the facade on either side of the entrance: “Laughy Taffy” is a kind of cosmic ladder in macaron colors, while “Starting Long Before That,” with its nebula and outposts, resembles a cosmic-formation climbing wall, complete with vinyl mirror stickers and florescent pink and green light projection. On the other side of a bank of wacky sculptures—raku ceramic hubs with pop-culture newsprint cones—hang bright acrylic paintings mirroring each other on facing walls. At the rear, a dazzling large-format gouache series combines soft and hard-edge abstraction in a rising wave of impact.

Ehlis is very conscious of how her works mirror each other and themselves in the polished floor, and how they cast color beyond their borders into the gallery. To enhance this effect, the paintings are mounted flush onto a steel frame in a kind of canvas/steel layer cake. The polished surface of the metal reflects color and adds a sculptural dimension. Viewed from their sides, the paintings become bas reliefs. Look more closely. Bingo: you see yourself in the steel, looking.

Starting Long Before That: All That Glitters

Throughout the exhibition, surfaces appear solid (or blank) until the “mirroring” kicks in. The looking glass is everywhere—as concept, structural principle, material, even as content. In the “Space Without Time” series, eight paintings sport laser engravings of buxom, Old Master nudes admiring their images in mirrors. But that’s impossible: Since each woman’s face is clearly reflected in the mirror, the model has to be looking in the mirror at the painter (or viewer). Here, as elsewhere, the question of who is looking at what takes on resonance.

Ehlis calls her candyland into question in various ways—placing censorious black stripes near the Old Master figures, running a graphic slash off the picture plane in the “This Thy Mirror” series, emphasizing the rising “wave” line in “Eyes Wide Open.” Despite the cheerful colors and preference for geometry, control sometimes seems to be slipping. Finally, these works are about the phenomenal world in which the viewer’s subjectivity is the ultimate house of mirrors.

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