In “Rainy Night” (2017), the artist carefully invokes surfaces, tonalities, and detritus, such as tin cans and coffee cubs. The electric blue tarp glows in the crepuscular light. Raindrops are visible as they fall unimpeded into the room. While the room did not allow Twilley to dream in peace, she dreamed anyway, as evidenced by the two art books lying on the floor, one of which has a painting from Picasso’s Blue Period on the cover. Twilley uses the bedroom as an occasion to test her painting chops: can she be true to the drab and artificial colors, to surface textures, to stains, tin, and plastic, and to the gloomy light?
The painting “Cat in the Roof” (2017), offers a partial view of the room, glimpsing the edge of a dresser, a space heater sitting on a chair — the likely reason the fire started — and a stained wall and door. The stained surfaces look as if someone stuck her hands in grease and rubbed them onto the cream-colored door and the wavy grooves of the warped prefab wallboard. Another smear the color of dried blood descends the wall. According to the gallery press release: “A stray cat and her kittens had been living in the roof above the fireplace and had died, causing maggots to rain down into the fire.” Twilley does not go for sensationalism, so that the russet smear is the only clue as to what happened. It is more than enough. Meanwhile, an apple core stands next to a coffee cup on the edge of the dresser, near the stained mattress.
The nuances of atmospheric light are impressive: Twilley wants to see what she once inhabited with a detachment that denies sentimentality, nostalgia, and even sympathy. Despite the depressing circumstances of her childhood, she recognizes that her situation did not become an overwhelming obstacle, and that she did become an artist, what she dreamed about. Any painterly move meant to play on our empathy would have struck a false note, and there is none of that in these terrific paintings. They are both tough and tender.
Along with the paintings of her bedroom and one of the fire blazing through her window, Twilley did a group of smaller works depicting the books she had that survived the fire. In these works, she placed the open book on her easel and painted what she saw. This includes smudges, masking tape, paint and pencil marks, and unidentifiable stains. In another painting from this group, she places her copy of a book on Titian next to one on Picasso: the covers are stained and the binding of one is coming undone. Twilley is committed to being true to the material state of an object, while also recognizing paint’s elasticity: it can be thin and washy, smeary or luminous.