At BoxHeart, Jennipher Satterly grapples with our legacy of plastic | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At BoxHeart, Jennipher Satterly grapples with our legacy of plastic

“Will we allow it to consume us?”

Floodgates for Hydra (detail), by Jennipher Satterly
Floodgates for Hydra (detail), by Jennipher Satterly

Since the waning years of the 20th century, artist Jennipher Satterly has documented the pervasiveness of plastic in the consumer landscape. From plastic’s aesthetic qualities and myriad forms to its effects on the environment, she seeks to capture her subjects with painterly objectivity. She calls her method “the mark,” a meticulously calculated brush technique that she considers crucial to her approach. “It’s the most important thing that I do. It’s the reason why I do it,” she says. “Making those marks, for me, is magic.”

Taken as a whole, her work ponders what plastic’s ubiquity in the present will mean for the future. The New Jersey-based artist poses the question eloquently in written materials accompanying her exhibition at BoxHeart Gallery, Floodgates for Hydra: “What’s most compelling is the question of how to handle the byproducts of this level of consumption. Will we allow it to consume us?”

The show (which helps mark BoxHeart’s 15th anniversary) features works in which Satterly finds wonder and perpetuity in forms and objects that we take for granted, from the intricate oil painting of plastic bags adrift at sea from which the exhibition takes its title to sparsely rendered drawings of six-pack rings tangled in kelp. The show’s highlight, “KT7112,” a work in oil across 40 aluminum plates, offers an industrial detail presented in such scale and perspective as to suggest that the pipes depicted might extend forever beyond the paintings’ borders. 

“It’s very important to me that from close up you see the act of painting, that it does look like it’s paying homage to an abstract-expressionist painter, but then if you step five feet back, 10 feet back — very often they get exhibited in museums and you can see them at 25 feet back — and your eye fuses those marks together and it becomes something,” she says.

For all the political weight her work carries, Satterly insists that pure artistic expression is central. “I certainly cannot deny the message being a form of activism, even in this case however small,” she writes in an email. “I do think there’s a big difference between making art to make a statement about something versus choosing subject matter that facilitates the type of art one wants to make. My first priority is to make a painting the way I want to make it.”

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