Painter uses technology to great effect
By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent | April 30, 2004
Catlin Rockman's paintings are so purely and obsessively about painting you could get lost in the intricacies, the lush details, and the undulating fields. But then you might lose sight of the pulpy subject matter: Rockman paints buxom, brawny, scantily clad female action figures. She blends her charged, lowbrow content with highbrow technical prowess, in the vein of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. Rockman's a young Boston artist, but with this kind of work, up now at Green Street Gallery, she could be poised to make it big.
Unlike Yuskavage and Currin, who beautifully use traditional figure painting techniques to portray tawdry and disturbing scenes, Rockman uses her craft to address the visual world today, appropriating computer effects with her paintbrush. She photographs the figurines, scans the pictures, and applies Photoshop effects named after painting processes, such as "palette knife." Then she projects her image on a large scale and paints it in several coats with excruciating precision, defining some areas down to the pixel, by hand and without the steadying aid of tape. A single painting might take a year to make.
The result dazzles. I did not at first recognize the figure in "Power No. 3." Up close, you get drawn into tiny increments of the painting: one orb of tawny tones looks like a Tuscan landscape; many areas show jagged gradations of color, the way a low-resolution photo appears on a computer screen. In addition to the pixels, Rockman airbrushes portions of the canvas to achieve a glowing, haloed, digital look. Here, an airbrushed island of lavender ringed with peach pops out of the center of the picture, soft and velvety beside the jagged pixels. It's deep space that also rises to meet us.
I had to look around the corner at a small-scale image Rockman dashed off of this superhero. When I returned to the larger canvas she jumped out at me like the She-Hulk who appears in another of Rockman's paintings. This one was wearing leering skulls as a brassiere (one cup was the Tuscan landscape) and blue buglike pincers on her mask. With the figure's super-sexualized body and impossibly broad shoulders, or the doe eyes of the figure in another painting, Rockman points up the frightening and funny contemporary iconography of the ideal woman in today's culture. She does it while appropriating the whiz-bang visions of the digital age to the slower, more considered world of painting, making work that zings like eye candy, but offers much more to chew on.