Nina Rizzo: Environmental Impact

It takes a moment for the eyes to adjust—atavistic mimesis! faux-fear, sympathetic nervous system goosing, the ultimate success of the palette of the night!—and for the wild bereavement of the eyes being divorced from the mind to subside, basic outlines, the context, the color, the safety, to materialize like haints in the gloaming, signposts and sirens demarcating and drawing through the darkness, through midnight and navy blues, still-warm oxblood, unfathomable purples, shadows thick enough to smother, to obfuscate, to kill, great ragged heaping breaths—ribcage expanding gulps—in the brief flashes —royal! the sky? a flower?—which open like false editorial spread irises to provide for the killing of Kurtz and the comforting recognition of shapes, shapes engorged, swollen sweet and suspended, striated like carapaces or the long, primed, puckered muscles of the thigh, like ladders from Pluto, the fat wet tongues of leaves lapping against and pulling the eyes, as if by slow jungle steamer, into and through Nina Rizzo's Conradian jungle. –  B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor

Nina Rizzo | Long Night in the Garden, 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 120 inches. Photo courtesy of Linda Warren Projects

It does not matter that Rizzo's Long Night in the Garden looks like the kind of lush space wherein day never breaks—only a dappled verdant twilight, even at noon—although, peering deeply enough, it does; what makes Garden crucial to You Are Here, Rizzo's solo exhibition at Linda Warren Projects, is that it encompasses environment, the show's primary concern, in a broad-spectrum manner beyond—but including—the most obvious, the landscape. Rizzo not only captures that environment, which one experiences, thanks to its mystifying coquettishness—get close, stare intently, become lost to find it—as a travelogue, but captures its essence as well, the discomfort in the darkness, the ineffable sense of place which gives locations their power.

This ability to capture not only the look, but the feel, of a place—one of art's most earnestly and frequently reached for brass rings since the first visual representations were formed—is not easy, and Rizzo's frustrations with the (to her mind, at least) flawed first attempts of Garden led directly to works which crystalized You Are Here's playful interpretations of the theme as well. Fed up with her night walk, Rizzo cut the canvas to pieces, scattering them on the floor of her studio. Looking down upon her riven jungle, she realized that the environment at her feet told a story just as much as a completed garden would; the tableau, captured in the clinically named Lost Painting, Studio Floor perfectly encapsulates where Rizzo was at that moment as an artist, in pretty much every sense—from the corporeal to the creative—of the word. The midnight shapes, gentle curves, hard lines, painfully obvious pieces of a whole, look as if space itself was taken to with an X-Acto knife, then dumped on God's garage floor.

Nina Rizzo | Lost Painting, Studio Floor, 2015, oil on canvas, 68 x 60 inches. Photo courtesy of Linda Warren Projects

The end result is slightly obfuscated—as all personal sights must be—before it becomes obvious, immediate, gratifying as the red arrow on the outlet map wall. So it goes with the other excised samples of environment Rizzo mounts for us; Black Beach—Dents, Divots, and Debris, is only obvious with the (again, almost taxonomic) exposition of the List of Works, the bits of frayed blue rope washed ashore on a black sand Icelandic beach easily being an abstract study, or perhaps galaxy, planets and the electric worms of nebulae, rather than the decidedly terrestrial, yet still alien!, image, a psychic profile Rizzo proffers; Iceland is off an older, more active earth than what likely constitutes our own, a place which seems … other, another essential element of environment captured. 

Nina Rizzo | Black Beach-Dents, Divots, and Debris, 2015, oil on canvas, 68 x 60 inches. Photo courtesy of Linda Warren Projects

Rizzo's exploration of environment often takes the view of a deity or bird, recreating—from above—sights from her travels and life and with the quasi-abstract focus and proximity of a jeweler's loupe, whether they are the porous scars of the sidewalk outside her studio or the legion of soft, predominantly fleshy colored lipstick stains—with a few screaming purples, crimsons, and blues thrown in—which coat the plexiglass partition of Oscar Wilde's grave like a flight of butterflies. These places, ranging from the banal to exotic, always carry that traveler's sense of the romantic—a heart carved into the same black sand; the paint-splattered floor of the artist's studio—and, in one particular instance, a sense of humor, as well, with the cream and ash and bone of a carved window encountered in ancient Syracuse positioned so that it would right in Linda Warren's bathroom, a play on environment incorporating the viewer's current one as well.

Still, with all the various conceptually clever and technically talented takes on place on display, one cannot help but keep coming back—as Marlowe—to that Cimmerian garden, the brief and exciting confusion its ombre contains, the almost-familiar shapes its shadows coalesce into, the slowing of footsteps—as the heart beat—with their recognition … you are there, indeed.


B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at


Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55