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Visual art review: Danika Vandersteen, Works

From a decadent bath: Vandersteen’s cartoon rococo is completely charming.


“Up You Go Girl. Take Your Treat Upstairs While You Figure Out What All the Landscapes Are About” - DANIKA VANDERSTEEN / EYELEVEL GALLERY
  • “Up You Go Girl. Take Your Treat Upstairs While You Figure Out What All the Landscapes Are About”

This month Eyelevel christens its new gallery space with a member’s show by Danika Vandersteen. Shifting from landscape paintings to cartoons, from the decorative arts to quirky assemblages, Vandersteen’s paintings, sculptures and buttery leather goods show an eye for detail and a goofy sense of luxury.

In her paintings lanky, cartoonish figures with oblong googly eyes floating in front of their faces move through their universe like comic-strip characters set free—the black lines of a strip replaced by lavish boudoirs, luxurious gardens and decadently patterned scenes. Much like Renaissance portraiture, Vandersteen paints these figures in shallow, richly decorated spaces, while a window reveals a deeper picture plane, hidden gardens and rolling hills rendered in a soft, romantic naturalism that contrasts the bolder, flatter foreground. 

These patterned interiors reflect the duelling styles in Vandersteen’s paintings, bouncing between rich textures and cartoonish shapes: A staircase decorated with the same googly faces as those of the figures, while in another three figures change behind a folding screen painted to look like stained glass. The figures oftentimes become patterns themselves, their movement suggested by Vandersteen repeating their likeness within the same frame, like in hieroglyphics or ancient Greek pots. We see this in “Up You Go Girl. Take Your Treat Upstairs While You Figure Out What All the Landscapes Are About” (2018), the figure of a girl in striped pants is repeated six times, each on a different step on a staircase. She ascends the stairs with a spoon to her mouth, wearing six different shirts patterned with a fantastical landscape (figure out what they’re all about, girl). On each step her cat walks across her feet, threatening to trip her and throw the delicate balance into chaos.

In “From a Decadent Bath One Can Really Ponder the Big Ol’ World (Two Stray Dogs Seeming to Represent Light and Dark but they are Literally Just Living)” (2017), we see this patterning on the vessel or tub where a woman bathes in a rich, dark liquid. She stares at herself in the mirror, her reflection made up in blue eyeshadow and lipstick, while animals move in and out of the frame; a cat’s pink butthole its final farewell as it exits the indulgent scene. From the sweet crudeness of the cat to the strangeness of the brown liquid of the bath, Vandersteen’s glamour tiptoes towards the abject—chocolate and feces are indistinguishable, though the sweet and rambling titles of her works errs on the side of luxury. 

Nearby there is a sculptural version of this bathing scene. A doll sits with wine glass in hand in the same patterned vessel we see in the painting, wooden oval eyes glued to her face. 

It is this cartoon rococo that Vandersteen does so well. Googly-eyed dogs, a horse and peacocks wander through a Versailles-esque garden, women partaking of decadent baths and snacks in opulent interiors, and even Vandersteen’s solo landscape paintings are framed in a kind of folky splendour: Gilded matting inside painted wooden frames carved with flowers and cutouts of ducks.

Vandersteen has an eye for both opulence and nonsense, for the thin line between decadence and the abject. The result is completely charming and refreshingly unserious. Vandersteen gracefully undulates between materials and styles, like a girl carefully walking over her affectionate cat as she climbs the stairs, snack in hand. 

Danika Vandersteen: Works
To April 22 at
Eyelevel, 5663 Cornwallis Street, Suite 100

xxx - Deprecated in favor of GTM, above.