"Mihee Nahm: Soaked" at Women & Their Work
In this solo exhibition, the artist invites us to take a walk with her down memory lane
Reviewed by Cat McCarrey, Fri., Feb. 14, 2020
Memory can be overwhelming, powerful – a force to be reckoned with. In the solo exhibition "Soaked," artist Mihee Nahm grapples with the power of memory through nature. Her exquisite paintings capitalize on small scenes collected through her walks. She lays a moment out on canvas or paper, and we complete it with our own experiences.
Nahm's paintings raise an intensely sensory feeling. Standing in front of a duo of leaf-covered canvas (Submerged), my nose prickles with the rich scent of rotting leaves and compressed earth, autumn in muted brown and gold. In certain landscapes of rocks and rivers, I can feel the wind sweeping down creek beds, taste the dusty earth whipping around me. "Landscape itself allows me to drift into a peaceful, calm state," Nahm has stated about her work, and it's not a difficult jump for someone to join her in that nirvanic realm.
The pieces, starkly displayed on four walls of Women & Their Work's gallery, range from large canvas triptychs to grids of small paintings. You walk from Wall A to D, turning through four corners, four phases of Nahm's work. The earliest pieces display collections. Here are leaves pinned to paper, gathered in plastic bags, spare and delicately detailed crispy leaf edges, shiny crinkles in plastic bags, dripping water creating a dark stain down the canvas. Wall B is a stunning grid of sparsely framed papers. Nahm calls these untitled works the first step in her process, scenes captured from photos of her outings. Each rectangle serves as a swim through memory. Like old slide shows, the scenes take you headfirst into the moment: Piled up pine trees offer the spice of Christmas tree shopping, a dark square shows the moonlight glinting off rustling leaves, rocky shores betray the lap of water as it meets the rocks.
The final two walls are the most experimental of her offerings. Nahm, who recently returned to Texas and creating art after working in Korea, says that her style goal was to "loosen up," and it's easy to see her getting bigger with ideas (and not just based on canvas scale alone). The intense detail of her early works and first impressions makes way for more ethereal space. One wall centerpiece, a three-canvas vertical called Earth Water, starts with perfectly rendered rocks drifting upward, morphing as ghostly spiked branches rise from water. Here, solid earth evaporates into misty eddies, and her details become gentle brushstrokes. The scene drifts away, perhaps further into the annals of memory.
The combination of natural focus and pure size in her more recent pieces transition Nahm's artistic goal from mere recreation to a narrative space. Instead of relying on shared memory, there's now a mystery that pulls at the viewer. While not as nostalgia-evoking as the first-stage paintings or the expressionistic scenes of rocks and water, these works still leave the viewer with an imprint of earth and vegetation, and perhaps, something more. A journey into the synapses where memory resides? A promise of discovering our own buried hopes and joys? It's possible.
"Mihee Nahm: Soaked"Women & Their Work, 1701 Lavaca
Through Feb. 27