Nestled in the heart of Old City, multicolored plants grow haphazardly through the wire fences meant to constrain them—that is, in Kate Bright’s paintings at the Locks Gallery. The upstairs gallery, where her paintings will be on view until March 18, contains ten distinct little rainbow worlds, filled with magical squash, figs, leaves, and flora from every season at every time of day. If you look long enough, you can almost feel the plants growing out of the constraints of their canvas boundaries towards the white gallery walls.
In Hot Night (2022), orange light peeks through intricate window frames, giving us a clue to the structure that lies behind the tendrils of white budding flowers. The stretching plants are backlit by this mysterious structure, illuminating them warmly. Below and behind the rest of the spindly flowers, rogue stems fall into the darkness of the night.
In Squash (2021), neon green squash plants emerge from barbed wire in front of a bright pink building. Bright situates us at the ground level, as if we inhabit the garden floor. Some leaves and backgrounds are merely sketched, while most leaves are fleshed out.
Bright’s fairytale–like work is often hyperrealistic, creating an interesting intersection of the real and the imaginary in a convincing chromatic world. The exhibition catalog reads that Bright creates “the perfect moment, on the perfect day, in the perfect season—tinged with the reality of our fading connection to the land.” Bright herself says, “It seems that the further we remove ourselves from nature physically, the more we seem to embrace it culturally … The depiction of the natural, whether by way of fantasy, myth, or the picturesque is allowed in the studio as a compensation for our lost relationship with the outdoors.”
Bright’s storybook worlds don’t just depict pretty snippets of nature but instead show nature overtaking its man–made constraints. Her 2022 work Porch Light does this as well. The large canvas contains an explosion of rainbow–green plants backed by yellow, red, blue, and purple light. Pink covers a disappearing translucent fence. Bright blue gates are overtaken by leaves that creep closer and closer to the viewer.
This idea continues throughout the rest of her work. Part Sun Part Shade (2021) depicts those same green plants busting through blue swirling fencing, in front of an ombre background and wire netting. The plants in Rustic Seating Area (2022) come over the remains of a green wooden criss–crossing fence. Small bursts of light, color, and leaves are peppered completely underneath the overgrown plants.
The stems, tendrils, leaves, and ringlets Bright ever so carefully places on the canvas made me stop, slow down, and contemplate the remaining natural beauty left outside of her canvases. After the show, I stopped in Washington Square Park. On my walk back from Old City to Penn, I couldn’t help but look a little more closely at every leaf on every front–step potted plant or city–planted tree, appreciating the endangered magic that Bright enlarges and highlights in every inch of her work.