Visiting the Mirror World of Jacqueline Ehlis

Six works from Jacqueline Ehlis' Eyes Wide Open series.

Six works from Jacqueline Ehlis’ Eyes Wide Open series.

Attracted by the title, Breathe Onto the Mirror, I entered Jacqueline Ehlis’ exhibition anticipating highly self-reflexive works. Bright breathy colors, reflective materials and disco lighting bring the viewer into the work. Close examination and reflection allows us to contemplate Ehlis’ artistic decision-making process.

A series of works titled “This Thy Mirror” is comprised of smallish rectangular canvases with monochromatic designs mounted on top of sheets of reflective board—think miniature funhouse mirrors. The viewer sees their warped reflection and the gallery behind them, which is kinda fun. Confusion arises from the placement of the canvases onto the mirrored surface, which feels arbitrary: The two surfaces maintain distinct separateness, forming no relationship beyond the forced placement.

Still, the Gaussian blur of myself and the space behind me was playful and impressionistic, which was quite different from the stoic geometry of the canvas. I found myself wondering what might have happened if the rigid geometry had transpired directly on the mirrored board, imagining a delightful tangle of organic forces working upon straight lines. If intended, the configuration only allowed this idea to happen in my mind.

Calling upon masters Rubens, Titian, Veronese and others, a series of works titled “A Space Without Time” nods to the Renaissance trend of painting Venus at her toilette looking into a mirror. Each sepia-toned image transfer is placed onto a bright geometric background, which allows punchy pinks, greens and oranges to tone the classical paintings. The works provided an enjoyable art history lesson, but what thought did Ehlis give to the layered notion of looking at an artwork that looks at itself? It’s a rich, self-reflexive terrain to look into more deeply.

The visual experience of color approaches the edible in a series of crusty candy-colored strips titled “Laughy Taffy.” Each piece pulls out the intensity, from pale hue to pure pigment. Interrupting the experience of color as object are the visible support structures painted to match the works. I craved deeper interaction with these bacon-y colored strips, but the works are vertically stacked toward the ceiling, eliminating the possibility of experiencing the texture of “Cherry” and “Orange.”

At the entrance, a grouping of ceramic sculptures march to a different tune from the rest of pieces in the exhibition. Disco lighting flecks viewers, placing them within the installation “Starting Long Before That,” prompting contemplation of a geometrically-mixed nebula of squares and circles. Rubber bumps comprise the galaxy, while the squares are uncertain planetoids within it. Many of the small textured panels are placed too high to really see. I fumbled about seeking intentionality, but came away with mixed messages.

As I contemplated Ehlis’ works, I recalled the words of writer Ann Lauterbach, from her book of essays The Night Sky: “All artworks are, at the most basic level, simply an accrual of relationships that are the result of choices: this, not that.” Clarity of choice makes the difference between an ambiguous and constructed viewing experience. It is the essence of the artist’s breath upon the mirror.

Breathe Onto the Mirror

Through Nov. 8 at Sahara West Library Gallery, 9600 W. Sahara Ave., 702-507-3630,