Ella Hatchet: Alex Chitty and Alice Tippit at Roots & Culture

At once phonetic and ambiguous, the work in Ella Hatchet reflects the title – a collection of paintings, photographs, and sculptures by Alex Chitty and Alice Tippit that strike a mood, rather than a specific target. In fact, the symbol a target would be the antithesis of what this exhibition, currently on view at Roots & Culture, so beautifully achieves. Embracing the poetic potentials of form, color, and organization of everyday objects, Chitty and Tippit stage an anti-devotional relationship to domestic symbols indicative of art historical tropes, as much as midcentury style and design. Where the embellishment of myth intersects with the cool touch of a textbook, both artists take a critical, yet humorous stance on immediately recognizable symbols and modes of making – silhouette portraiture, the reclining nude, and marble sculpture, to name a few. In Ella Hatchet, a Classical approach to achieving the perfect form is met with the contemporary anxiety of purposeful mistranslation. Taking its cue from the pictorial language of painting and sculpture, as well as its signs/signifiers, this exhibition questions the state of an original object when interpreted into a new context – reveling in all the exciting slippages that occur when traditional systems of representation falter. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor

Work by Alex Chitty and Alice Tippit, from left: “Autonaut,” 2011, “Snap,” 2011, “Slow Death of a Namesake (Unit I),” 2013, and “Lake Aspect,” 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Roots & Culture.

In Chitty’s sculptures, what resemble decorative art objects are placed coldly on Bauhaus-styled glass and metal shelves, creating a quasi-familiar situation out of carefully fabricated bric-a-brac. Each sculpture is like a formula, the sum of its parts acting as the whole entity, such as in Slow Death of a Namesake, on view in the main gallery. Functioning as an architectural element, the casual placement of objects – ceramic jaguars, chains, and votive vase forms, among other less nameable things – produce the effect of a Hockney etching, where Chitty’s amassed materials similarly reference the emptiness of a collectible object, and are surprisingly almost as two-dimensional. Among the most interesting moments within the piece are Chitty’s latex forms, which carry the same weight of a drawing, as if the lines were lifted off the page and suspended in space.

Alex Chitty, “Slow Death of a Namesake (Unit I),” 2013, Perspex, 2 Haeger jaguars (cream and white), latex, aluminized prints, heat transfer on fabric, steel, birch plywood, Tesla room divider. Courtesy of the artist and Roots & Culture.

The non-descript shapes barely hold their form, and look all the more fragile within the starkness of their metal and ceramic surroundings. While apparently casual in their placement, the smaller pieces within the larger sculpture read as a visual essay; a critical comment on the domestic, and entirely digestible symbols of midcentury-cool they imitate. The status of these objects waver when met with the delicate touch of Chitty’s overwhelmingly handmade, and non-utilitarian latex objects. Often defined as “a person or thing that has the name of another,” Chitty’s “namesake” references the name you would give to the shadow or ghost of the thing itself. While the sculptures certainly have a familiar visual impression, it is hard to give the parts within them a just name – and though we come close, the work challenges our ability to give a name to an object, once its original use has run out.

Alice Tippit, “Snap,” 2011, Oil on canvas, 15 x 18”. Courtesy of the artist and Roots & Culture.

Hanging just beyond the sculpture is Tippit’s Snap – a small painting done in two hues of blue, which depicts an all-over linear pattern that pushes up against the edge of the painting. Despite the hesitant touch of the brush, the painting registers like a broken mirror, jagged and superstitious, never touching the edge of the canvas. A similarly domestic reference within the proximity of Chitty’s work, Tippit offers a different relationship to language. Coming from a more post-structuralist direction, Tippit’s paintings are entirely linguistic, translating images by using a simplified pictorial language that pulls from a varied lexicon of subjects. Her representation of things is indebted to signs, where the paintings stage their own myths – lifting recurring subjects from the history of painting, and inserting them into a more clinical context, Tippit undoes complicated subjects and puts them back together in a fresh and immediate manner.

Alice Tippit, “Haiku,” 2010. Oil on canvas, 17 x 20”. Courtesy of the artist and Roots & Culture.

The abundance Leda and the Swan paintings has always fascinated me; they represent a moment when the painting is no longer about the subject, but about that subject’s presence in history. It is the many swans in these paintings I think of when I see Tippit’s Haiku, a pared down silhouette of a swan with an apostrophe-like beak, sitting against a slightly asymmetrical red and green background. Like a reference card children use to learn letters, we can imagine the soft-spoken echo of a teacher repeating, “S is for Swan,” an elementary undertone that carries through all of Tippit’s work. On the opposite wall of the main gallery, Tippit stages a similar circumstance in Lake Aspect, this time using the silhouette of Ingre’s famous La Grande Odalisque.

Alice Tippit, “Lake Aspect,” 2012, Oil on canvas, 15 x 18”. Courtesy of the artist and Roots & Culture.

Painted in a soft aqua blue against a pale pink, the top corner carries a small yellow scalene triangle. Essentially done in a primary palette, the painting challenges the relationship between a reclining nude and simple geometry. Though the presence of the triangle formally suggests an effort to navigate through triangulation, a third element to the painting is purposefully missing. While the painting is flat, it still references a landscape – perhaps the absent third element – explaining how figure and shape introduce distance, even in the most flat and minimal situation. It is circumstances like these that make Ella Hatchet an incredibly engaging show, one that continues to unfold symbol upon symbol.


Alex Chitty currently lives and works in Chicago.  She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a B.A. from Smith College, MA. She is a 2012 & 2011 recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Artist Project Grant, and has shown her work with Alderman Exhibitions; Bourouri Gallery, Berlin; Corbett vs. Dempsey; The Chicago Cultural Center; the Kyung In Museum of Fine Art in Seoul, Korea, and The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. 

Alice Tippit was born in Independence, KS and received her BFA and MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has had solo exhibitions at Peregrine Program in Chicago, Important Projects in Oakland, CA, and Jancar Jones Gallery in LA.

Stephanie Cristello is an artist, curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago, IL.


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