This pair of solo shows leads with the New York debut of paintings by the Los Angeles artist Blair Saxon-Hill, 44, who exhibited large monotypes here in 2022, at Pace Prints.
Saxon-Hill, who was born in Eugene, Ore., in 1979, works with untroubled ease and zero pretension, when painting her still lifes of wilting flowers or inhabited interiors. Her clumsy figures evince a very late version of what was once called the School of Paris, an intuitive fusion of direct drawing and painting that descended from Matisse and Picasso.
Yet Saxon-Hill’s paintings capture a malaise that seems very contemporary, very post-Covid. The bouquets of flowers, alone or in the interiors, are usually dying, dropping their seeds. The exception is the combination of lilacs and persimmons in “Flowers for Alice Neel.” They are the healthiest in the show but they reappear in worse shape, in “Persimmon at Night,” in which a woman lolls listlessly on a table, clutching a persimmon in one hand.
In “Power of Now,” a woman in red, with a persimmon wall looming behind her, seems to shrink from the newspaper open on the table before her. The anxieties in “The News” are more ambiguous. It centers on a large piece of paper that appears to be a drawing of thick severed limbs covering the lap of a woman whose precarious black coiffure is indicated by a calligraphic swirl. She seems straight out of a drag show or a Japanese erotic woodblock and looks dismayed. Is she thinking “Too much carnage” or maybe just “Too much Picasso”? The show’s title looks to the future with a fatalistic phrase from the Japanese poet Issa, “Even Then Flowers Bloom.”
In Shrine’s second gallery, the veteran painter Clintel Steed, 46, offers an interesting contrast to Saxon-Hill’s smooth, suave surfaces with ones whose short thick brushstrokes can pile up like little bricks. Steed, who was born in Salt Lake City and now lives in Peekskill, N.Y., has used this robust, somewhat combative style of paint handling for some time, letting it both fragment and energize his subjects, which have ranged from landscapes to reprises of old master paintings, and have varied in their effectiveness. ROBERTA SMITH