Katherine Fraser’s paintings exist on the edge of fantasy. Some pieces veer more towards reality, and others begin to cross the boundary into a dream state. Her current exhibition Far from the Tree depicts figures from well-known fables to probe the concepts of destiny and agency. This collection of work, on view at Philadelphia’s Paradigm Gallery, questions the fixed destinies that these characters live again and again in the retelling of their tales. In each painting there is the feeling that something is about to happen, like the smell of the air changing as a storm approaches from a far-off place.
In “Promises to Keep” a young woman wears a blue and white dress and smock. Her blond hair is braided over her shoulder and she is holding a lamp and an open pocket watch. The figure looks adult, but the style of her clothing is childlike. She faces the dark side of the woods, while the sunset is diminishing behind her. Will she go into the dark carrying her own light? Curiously, in “Two Paths Diverged” a woman with shorn blond hair emerges from a dark wood haphazardly dressed. Red roses in full bloom decorate the dark. These images could be the same female figure in two stages of life, a timid before and bold after.
In “To Know the Difference,” the quilted pattern of a young man’s jacket mirrors the chain linked fence behind him. He is not ghostly, dissolving into the fence, but solid. The mirroring of the diamond pattern makes it seem like he is constrained by outside forces. Far behind the fence a soft light is filling the mist in the woods. It looks like he is embedded in his environment, and the halo of mist catches the light like a dream of what else is out there.
“The Larger Questions” and “Infrared” were next to each other in the gallery. While the qualities of the images are very different, one edgy and darkened, the other soft and natural, one gallery visitor noted that both women appear to be ready to take action. They are both redheads, one the color of a nightclub pulse and the other an autumnal hue. Shadowed eyes and bold shoulders, versus clear eyes and a calculating gaze.
Among these portraits Fraser painted nature scenes that, at first, appear unassuming. A prolonged look reveals the clear bright sky above the dark mystery of the woods. Spindly branches are simply filling up space, then they are moving toward you in a gesture that could be welcoming or threatening. These painting provide periods of rest in this complex series, then reveal depths that you thought must be hidden.
Far from the Tree is on view until April 21st at Paradigm Gallery + Studio: 746 S. 4th Street, Philadelphia, 19147.