P·P·O·W is pleased present The Foliated Room, Katharine Kuharic's fifth solo exhibition with the gallery since 1994. Pioneering a genre of distinctly queer, feminist image-making, Kuharic’s paintings conjure open-ended narratives, always insisting that things are different from what they seem. Emphasizing an individual aesthetic counter to the virtual realities of technology, her labor-intensive process necessitates an equivalent time-based immersion and emotional engagement by the viewer. Featuring early works from the 1990s alongside a new body of paintings, The Foliated Room highlights Kuharic’s decades-long visual examination of mortality, sexuality, and connection to nature through her meticulous technical approach, multilayered symbolism, and highly keyed pallet.
Drawing inspiration from the Sala a Fogliami or "Room of Foliage” at the Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa in Venice, where she was an artist in residence at the Emily Harvey Foundation, Kuharic similarly depicts flora and fauna to examine the struggle between life and death. Adamant that her references are real and not photographic, Kuharic sources invasive species such as the echinocystis lobata and dead animals such as hummingbirds, cardinals, and finches, from the Hamilton College Cemetery, where tenured professors such as herself are allotted a burial plot. Referencing Albrecht Dürer, El Greco, and Stanley Spencer, Kuharic imbues her withering tangles of closely observed clippings from the natural world with memories and feelings of their lost lives, creating alluring compositions that capture nature’s waning beauty and resilient life force. An abundant web of unnaturally vibrant yellows, greens, blues, and oranges, Parable, 2023, derives its name from the New Testament. Citing Carl Jung’s interpretation that religion is a psychological response to a world filled with the unknown, Kuharic views dedicated observation and immersion in the physical act of painting as a devotional experience akin to prayer. An act of generosity, painting for Kuharic is an opportunity to linger in and prolong the beauty that surrounds us, even in the face of death.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, Kuharic found herself grappling with the loss of friends to the HIV/AIDS crisis while at the same time witnessing other friends having children. By juxtaposing these life altering experiences, Kuharic highlights the entangled nature of life and death. In an untitled work from 1994, a baby clutches its foot in its hands, its plump and smooth skin contrasted with a pair of flexing, worn and wrinkled hands, perhaps stretching to find relief from pain or labor. These symbols of different life stages are set against a backdrop of fibrous corn husks, referencing Kuharic’s rural, midwestern upbringing. Deeply attuned to the transitory and often contradictory nature of life, Kuharic uses her practice to move herself into a prayerful state as she paints intuitively. Today, the existential threat of climate catastrophe and the fragility of the biosphere provide another lens through which to understand her work.
Katharine Kuharic (b. 1962) was born in South Bend, IN, and completed her BFA in Painting & Drawing at Carnegie Mellon University in 1984. She has exhibited in the U.S. and abroad in solo or group exhibitions in Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Stockholm, London, and Amsterdam. Kuharic has been the subject of museum exhibitions at the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, Wilmington, DE; the South Bend Regional Art Museum, South Bend, IN; the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; and the Portsmouth Museum of Art, Portsmouth, NH.