Tender as the Language
All too soon (it’s always too soon) it’ll be winter in Chicago again. We steel ourselves as best we can, but the days are getting shorter and the months ahead are long. Winter’s never easy. It’s an awkward season; we squeeze together in our down coats on buses and on trains, forgetting we have bodies under all the layers of clothes. Winter is a mood. We’re cooped up and restless, and the cold stings our skin.
The works of San Diego-based artist Chantal Wnuk appear, at first, like sun-soaked fantasies. Her paintings are filled with bare limbs, ocean waves, and heat. The colors swelter. Her arrangements of small sculptures are like strange beaches, strewn with piles of tiny stones and glass: flotsam that we pocket and arrange back home on our windowsills, giving it our own quiet meaning.
Beyond the particularities of place—a life lived close to the ocean and to stretches of beach—Wnuk’s works poke more deeply at feelings of human vulnerability, desire, and tender awkwardness. Her figures are often isolated and only partially visible; a hand or shadow may be all we see. In certain works, hands are caught in familiar acts, applying sunscreen or tying back hair, reaching out to touch another’s skin. While skin often appears in moments of discomfort (a raw sunburn, for instance, or salt water in a wound), there is always a lingering desire to touch and be touched, to be together and to be alone—or both, perhaps, all at once. Like the quiet aside within the show’s title, Wnuk’s works gently dance in the messiness between solitude and companionship.
Maybe so much is the same for everyone; we’re all here, trying to see things as clearly as we can, always needing more sleep, trying to understand and be understood, learning how to give (and what to give). Wnuk’s paintings feel like kindnesses, enacting our vulnerabilities and longings out in the open, with humor and tenderness. We’re in it together, they whisper. They wink, and warm us.