There is something compellingly otherworldly about Hilary Wilder's work. Geysers, glaciers, high seas -- the imagery suggests a chilly northern element, the closest of which we get through intense air conditioning.
It's likely a desired effect, as Wilder plays with notions of what's real in nature in her new show at Devin Borden Gallery, fittingly called "A Northern Tale." This tale is one of war, history and phenomenon, as the artist draws on her experiences traveling to Iceland for the new works. There are paintings of seascapes and exploding geysers, a sculpture of a black-and-gold skiff, references to a modern war, the kind fought over fishery rights.
To tell these stories, Wilder uses an impressive range of materials and skills. There's a wonderful craftiness to her works -- PVC and jewelry hinges in the white floor piece Garment for an Island Nation, spray paint and gold leaf in The Viking's Skiff, and, in the majority of the works, acrylic on Yupo paper depicting in turns wood and ice.
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Through her skilled and meticulous painting, Wilder manages to confuse us with works that play with ideas of disorder and order, the real and the ideal -- tempting dichotomies for any artist anywhere and in any medium, but which are effectively explored here. Just look at Raft, the centerpiece work found on the middle wall of the gallery. It appears to be a raft in disarray, three pieces neatly held together while three others are leaning precariously off to the side, barely, almost impossibly held together by a string of twine. Upon closer inspection -- namely, reading the gallery list -- it becomes apparent that these aren't pieces of wood, but the illusion of it -- acrylic manipulated on Yupo paper to resemble the organic shades and patterns of wood. Wilder has tricked us.
She easily does so again in a series of paintings that also depict wood, but this time in seemingly random, geometric patterns. The works Skylight #2, Screen and Seaside Sculpture are comprised of fragments of wood veneer, dissected by streaks of light gray. There seems to be little logic to their splicing, until you realize the pieces are comprised of two sections that are inversely symmetrical to each other -- flipped in such a way that the configuration at first seems random, but is really anything but.
Despite all this talk about fake rafts and wood veneer, the artist is really known for her explosive wall installations. And that's where Wilder throws the biggest surprise. Instead of wildly colorful paintings that come out of the wall, the two wall installations are remarkably restrained. One, Shepherd, seems to hardly count as a wall painting -- it features an arrangement of aerospace aluminum hung over a gray rectangle on the wall. In the other, View, we get a sky with a brown grid laid over it. It's almost annoyingly simple, and yet, still so bold and transportive in their cold calm.
"Hilary Wilder: A Northern Tale" at Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main Street, now through August 5. For more information, call 713-529-2700 or visit www.devinborden.com.