Dramas of Adjustment

Viewing Room

Dramas of Adjustment is a presentation of artworks by Sophy Naess and Joseph Stella. It is the first show by Naess in the Netherlands and presents completely new works such as a site-specific wall-filling tapestry and several large prints on canvas.

Sophy Naess (*1982) was trained as an oil painter and maintains an active multidisciplinary practice that includes weaving, writing, and various print-based projects. Her works are presented in dialogue with works by Joseph Stella (* 1877 Muro Lucano, IT | † 1946 New York City, USA) an Italian-American painter. The latter’s fine silverpoint drawings of plants and flowers and idiosyncratic paintings on paper share with Naess a vulnerable, fluttering sensibility. In 1897, Stella began painting and studying at the Art Students League, then at the New York School of Art. Until the early 1920s, his painting was influenced by the Futurists in Paris. Later, his art was influenced by realism, surrealism, and abstract painting.

Between panels with stretched colorful paint marks, illustrations of a fox appear who tries, in a variety of attempts and constant stretches, to reach grapes that are hanging high on a tree. The obvious effort of the fox is never rewarded. The wall-sized weaving by Sophy Naess is an approach to Aesop’s fable of “The Fox and the Grapes”, in which the fox tells himself, after not being able to harvest the desired fruit, that the grapes are no good anyway and therefore not worth chasing. Naess’s weaving catches the fox in the moment of constant trial, continuously under tension and never reaching his satisfaction.

What resonates in the work is the feeling of tension that can occur when one strives for the idea of a “good” or “better” life. Lauren Berlant, the renowned American cultural theorist, sees this attachment as an actual obstacle to ones being. “Dramas of Adjustment” is the term Berlant uses to describe the situation when an unfeasible aim, which one might project in an object or idea of desire, will never be reached and therefore one needs to adjust their perception of it. (Berlant, Lauren: Cruel Optimism, London 2011.) In Naess’ tapestry, the grapes can be seen as the idea of the better life which the fox tries to reach to no end.

This fox has a longing for grapes: She jumps, but the bunch still escapes.

The enviable birds feasting on the grapes aloft must have bad taste, the bitter fox scroffs.

The fox jumps and reaches with considerable strain, but the tempting clusters are too high to gain.

Since he can’t partake of this meal fit for gods, the fox scorns the grape-eaters and calls them clods.

Grieved in his heart he forces a careless smile and declares ‘these grapes are sour and hardly worth my while’.

Besides their figurative meaning, the works presented in the exhibition Dramas of Adjustment are quite literally dependent on tension and stretching. Weaving the tapestry, for example, requires the pull and the traction of a loom in order to create it. The weaving is a rather artisanal approach and reflects Naess’s interest in structure and material itself. In her tapestry, the adaptability of the material as well as the stretching of the painted marks applied on the threads before the weaving process, transmit the idea of simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction.

Sophy Naess | Running Figure | 2021 | collagraph on canvas, acrylic ink | 190 x 170 cm

Sophy Naess | Untitled (thread study) | 2019 | gouache and acrylic on canvas | 35.5 x 28 cm

1. Sophy Naess | Instabile #6 (Negative II) (Publication in collaboration with Marina Ancona) | 2020 | Collagraph hand painted with acrylic | 38 x 28 cm

2. Sophy Naess | Small Net | 2019 | collagraph | 38 x 28 cm

Sophy Naess | Clusters of Promises (ruptured matrix) | 2021 | collagraph | 38 x 28 cm

Besides her examination of narratives such as myths and fables, Sophy Naess depicts in her paintings details she observes in everyday life, often looking to plant forms and their negative space as a mirror of the tensions in the woven work.

1. Sophy Naess | Nasturtium | 2021 | oil on canvas | 35.5 x 28 cm

2. Sophy Naess | Chicory | 2021 | oil on canvas | 28 x 35.5 cm

Joseph Stella (1877 – 1946) was one of the most technically-skilled and versatile painters of the early twentieth century, and eclectic in his styles and motifs. He painted and drew everything from grim industrial sites to phantasmagoric landscapes, in meticulous realist, cubist, futurist and precisionist styles.

In the 1930s, Joseph Stella travelled to Europe, North Africa and the West Indies. During this time, Stella utilized a variety of styles, including Realism, Surrealism, and Abstraction, to depict abstract city themes, religious imagery, botanical studies, erotic Caribbean landscapes and colourful still lifes of vegetables, fruits and flower.

1. Joseph Stella | Cactus, Century Plant |c1918 | silverpoint, colored pencil, pencil on paper | 38.1 x 52.1 cm

2. Joseph Stella | Magnolia | 1919 | crayon, silverpoint on paper | 30 x 27 cm

Joseph Stella | Red Buildings, Barbados | pastel and pencil on paper | 51.1 x 66.4 cm
Joseph Stella | Pulcinella | gouache on paper | 99 x 74. cm
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Naess’ collagraphs are prints on paper and canvas of loosely woven figurative constructions of threads. In order to be printed the fragile construction of threads is recomposed each time it comes out of the ink in order to be printed again. The prints are the result of this circular process of stretching, loosening and repeated stretching.

Sophy Naess | Clusters of Promises | 2021 | callographs | dimensions variable

Clusters of Promises (A)

Clusters of Promises (B)

Clusters of Promises (C)

Clusters of Promises (D)

Clusters of Promises (E)

Clusters of Promises (F)

Clusters of Promises (G)

Clusters of Promises (H)

Naess’ approach of observation and reflection is put in relation to a selective presentation of survey drawings and paintings of material and structures by Joseph Stella. The result is a dialogue and trans-historical relatedness between the works.

Sophy Naess | Butterfly net | 2021 | collagraph on canvas, acrylic ink | 190 x 130 cm

1. Sophy | Untitled (Arc, positive) | Publication in collaboration with Marina Ancona | 2020 | collagraph | 76.5 x 57 cm

2. Sophy Naess | Untitled (Arc, negative) | Publication in collaboration with Marina Ancona | 2020 | collagraph | 76.5 x 57 cm

Stella established his reputation as a bold and innovative artist who was able to convey the excitement of the city and modern life. At the same time, he was compelled to express the powerful spiritual connection he felt with the natural world through his many paintings of flora and fauna. This was a subject the artist would pursue persistently through his entire career, becoming a prolific creator of lyrical and exuberant depictions of flowers, plants and birds. Stella saw a purity and beautiful mystery in nature and explored it with passion, combining realism and fantasy in a modernist idiom.

1. Joseph Stella | Woman with Orange Shawl
pencil and watercolor on paper | 51 x 35.5 cm

2. Joseph Stella | Mountain Landscape
colored pencil | 16 x 13,5 cm

1. Joseph Stella | Lake and Volcano/ Tree and Volcano | color crayons and black ink on paper | 16 x 13.5 cm

The atmospheric charcoal drawing titled Man seated at a window from 1930 shows how Stella used charcoal in order to portrait a simple moment of daily life with such pathos

Joseph Stella | Man seated at window | 1930 | charcoal and pastels on paper | 38 x 29 cm

Joseph Stella | Watermelon and zucchini | gouache and pencil on paper | 45.1 x 59.7 cm