It’s hard to imagine someone less dusty than Alicia Malik.
The type of person one would expect to put out “a collection of paintings documenting the delicate creatures who have fallen alone in our windowsills” – the promotional description of “Dust,” Malik’s solo exhibit that opened Friday at Black Rock’s 464 Gallery – would probably be a cobwebby spinster with bug-eye glasses, a penchant for silence and an unhealthy obsession with death.
By contrast, Malik, one of the newer members of Marcus Wise’s 464 artistic troupe and atelier, is friendly, articulate and engaging – both bright and young in the many senses of those words.
She is, though, perhaps a little obsessed with death. “Things like that always fascinate you on a level you don’t want to admit,” she said.
Ready to admit it or not, visitors to 464 this month will share Malik’s morbid fascination. When looking at the paintings, a mix of watercolors and oil and acrylics, one necessarily confronts death, isolation and the malleability of significance because Malik paints bugs. Dead bugs. Frozen in the silent death throes of whatever solipsistic insectile dramas that unfold unseen before we find the dry husks on our windowsills.
Most of us move on without a thought, sometimes even neglecting to remove the bug as if, in its insignificance, it might disappear on its own and save us the unsavory task.
Malik sees these bugs and is fascinated; and she passes this fascination on to us.
Because of its anatomy, the mayfly is the most dramatic of Malik’s subjects, the long legs stretching out across the empty space of the canvas, expressive, even post mortem. Malik renders perspective with particular delicacy here, showing some of the tiny leg tips blurred, as we would see them with our eyes, staring only at the bug’s body. But even the humbler bugs speak in their frozen poses. In “Take a Bow,” a wasp is toppled and dipping, balanced as if deliberately placed head down. In “Yellow” the bug seems to be giving a final go-to-hell kick to the world that couldn’t bring itself to care.
The “dusty” backgrounds – some photorealistic and some abstract – are sometimes just as expressive as the bugs. Many are empty, fields of dust, in varying degrees of grunge and texture, taking the subjects out of the literal windowsills and into a theoretical landscape of loneliness.
Others are more daring. In “Real Anti-Gravity,” Malik renders a more stylized fly in sharp focus, and presents the background as rushing up and away, with broad, confident lines.
Next to this piece hangs “Piles,” with a supine beetle atop a background the color of parchment, with aggressive squiggles connoting something vaguely cartographic, like the unknown edges of an old map.
Along with the paintings, “Dust” puts Malik’s promise on display. (It’s no surprise, for example, that the Burchfield Penny snapped up “Mayfly” before the show even opened.) Now that she’s mastered her theme and caught our attention, it’s time for her give her dusty muse a longer leash. Her more recent works veer toward the abstract – “I started really liking the ambiguity,” she said – and with friends and fans bringing her more bugs to study and paint, it will be interesting to see where she takes the theme.
Malik has another show slated for July 23, 2014, at Buffalo Arts Studio, but you can see her at City of Night on Aug. 17 at Silo City.