In XOX, the titular painting of Ann Worthing's upcoming exhibition, these two letters are buried within a verdant, painterly field. Xs and Os can stand for kisses and hugs, or they might conjure the children's game of Tic-tac-toe, associations that bring with them an air of romance and whimsy. Such feelings pervade the world that Worthing evokes, populated as it is by blooming flowers, fragments of Classical architecture, owls, deer and hares.
However, upon closer inspection, these pastoral, fairytale landscapes shift shape into the surreal and unsettling: flowers transform into eyeballs, tree trunks into human legs, and a hare puffs away on a cigar. What seemed familiar from fables and shared dreams suddenly becomes alien and nightmarish. This nesting of images, with each forming the basis for the next, produces vertiginous ladders of association. Worthing's painting opens up the world of appearances into psychological flux.
The suggestion of mythology and metaphor is countered by an equal emphasis on composition and medium. Imagery accumulates into dense, shimmering tapestries of paint that captivate beyond the level of subject matter. If modern and contemporary painting has shuttled between intuitive, transcendent impulses on the one hand,
and rational, materialist tenets on the other, then Worthing occupies a space in between, where paint is mobilized for its abilities to simultaneously transport us elsewhere and ground us in its own specificity.
The Xs and Os, strewn as they are across the landscape, without ever appearing side by side, are also letters that do not quite form a word: the potential for language rather than its full realization. Imagery is equally open-ended. A camera, a windmill, and a bedraggled Christmas tree refuse to settle into any prescribed meaning, instead creating a nascent narrative. Standing on the verge of language and representation, these paintings offer pure visual data for the viewer to name, grasp and shape him or herself. To complicate things further, the way in which the works continually generate new meanings is thematized in the imagery itself, which abounds with references to fertility, including rabbits, rivers, and abundant vegetation.
In holding fantasy and formalism in suspension, Worthing's recent paintings allow us to immerse ourselves in their volatile vision of the picturesque while also asking us to critically examine the process of perception. Ultimately, these works reveal that the visual can never be fully grasped by the verbal, being suggestively fluid and mysterious.
Antonia Pocock, NYC, 2011
Ann Worthing received her BFA from Southwestern University from Georgetown, TX in 1980 and her MFA from the University of Chicago in 1982. She is represented by Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago and has also exhibited in New York, Boston, and Chattanooga. In 1996 she had a one-person show at the Chicago Cultural Center. She is currently a Teaching Artist and Fellow at Marwen in Chicago.