Art » Art Feature

Roll With It

Elizabeth Alley takes a spin.



As pivot for the Memphis roller-derby team Legion of Zoom, Elizabeth Alley sets the pace for her pack and is the last line of defense against the other team's jammer. She's very good at this fast, furious sport full of spills, sharp turns, and colorful language. Alley is also very good at art. In works currently on view, she records the art and architecture of Europe with her signature style of vivid colors, evocative shapes, and skewed perspectives.

Mostly shown from the thigh-down, roller-derby skaters, decked out in thick black kneepads, striped socks, and short shorts, are the subject of several of Alley's untitled paintings in her exhibition "Don't Leave Anything Behind," at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts. With night lights illuminating the sweat on her angled right leg, one of these figures swivels left, darts past another player, and races counterclockwise around a rink painted a pastiche of oranges to accentuate the energy of this high-speed chase.

Many of the other quickly executed, mixed-media paintings in the Marshall Arts show are fragments of French life reduced almost to abstraction. In a beautifully atmospheric cityscape, blurred gray rectangles jut into a cobalt sky next to an orange awning. The crisp-edged, saturate rectangles on the right are a nod to Alley's love for ethnic restaurants. Block lettering on a bright-red and creamy-white sign announces Tibetan food in the heart of Paris.

In a bird's-eye view of Paris, we look through the hands of a huge clock face inside a train station converted into one of France's premier museums. Just to the left of 7 o'clock, Alley lays down washes of ochre and umber to suggest the mottled facades and irregular windows of 16th-century architecture on the other side of the Seine.

Alley's wry humor is as skewed as her perspective. An amorphous pattern of umbers and grays is backdropped by a clear turquoise sky. Adjust your eyes to this painting's shadows, and you'll make out a muscular body folded in on itself. A gray forearm falls between the legs. An elbow rests on a knee. The figure's head is missing, cut off by the top of the picture plane. It's a painting of Rodin's The Thinker, but in Alley's version, this forever deep-in-thought man has his head in the clouds.

"Don't Leave Anything Behind" at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts through June 9th

This year's Memphis In May poster saluting Spain reproduces six of Alley's thickly impastoed oils on canvas arranged in three vertical rows. Two of these slices of Spanish life require footwork as agile as the leaps and sidestepping of roller-derby skating.

In the top right panel of the poster, a flamenco dancer's red and black skirts and underskirts (in colors so thick they look squeezed straight from the paint tube) swirl in several directions around her legs and patent leather shoes. We see her from mid-thigh down. Her feet are flat on the floor, locked into place for an instant. Crisp strokes of raw sienna brushed in every direction add to the energy of the image and suggest the scuffmarks created as the dancer spins across an earthen floor.

We see a matador's legs and silhouette in another panel. His feet are stationary but his shadow is full of arcs and angles. Like a dancer spinning left and right, like a skater negotiating a sharp turn around a rink, Alley captures another pivot as a bullfighter swoops his cape and abruptly pulls it back and behind him.

Rows of stucco-colored, hexagonal columns recede far into space as Alley takes us deep inside the Alhambra in the poster's bottom right panel. At dead center in the composition, a tiny portal of light on a shadowed wall brings to mind the pinhole of a camera obscura and the eye of an artist exploring every nook and cranny, every scintilla of motion and light.

Elizabeth Alley's poster saluting Spain is available at the Memphis In May offices, 88 Union Avenue, and at local frame shops.

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