For her first solo exhibition, “Scale Wing,” Sydney Cortright presents large scale acrylic, india ink, and Flashe-on-muslin paintings, as well as smaller scale watercolor-on-paper pieces, all inspired by, and named after, butterflies. The stunning, complex pieces call to mind numerous of the artist’s influences, from Henri Rousseau to Helen Frankenthaler to Ryuki Tanaka. Throughout the show, Cortright balances delicate and bold, light and dark, saturated and washed. In Papilio chikae, 2022, we see pink, green, and russet passages that look as if an insect has been deconstructed. Dripping elements, as well as watered down sections, evoke the motion of flying. Three army green dots on the right side of the canvas recall the wing pattern common to many butterflies. Triplet specks recur elsewhere in the show, as in the hot pink patterning of Ornithoptera croesus, 2022, a horizontal teal, neon orange, and pale pink painting featuring both cloud-like and wing-like greenish-blue sections. Although the works are titled after scientific names of butterflies, the subject is mostly just a starting point for the artist to explore shape, color, and blending— in short, the elements of painting itself.
To render the works on paper in the show, the artist examined numerous images of butterflies from field guides and biological illustrations in order to create a watercolor collage of various wing patterns. In Diaethria astola, 2023, for example, we see clusters of orange, yellow, pink, and blue. Although titled after a single butterfly, each paper piece comprises a conglomeration of species, generating an invented fantasy creature. In these pieces, many distinct, saturated colors come together on a single plane, unlike the all-blue muslin paintings Celastrina lucia, 2022, and Speyeria diana, 2023. Inspired by butterflies from the artist’s garden growing up, these two pieces feel like meditations on blending, with tones of navy, cobalt, cerulean, and turquoise. Finally, in Zerene cesonia, 2023, titled after the Dog Face Butterfly, we see particularly opaque swathes of yellow, peach, brown, and blue. Most of the delicate muslin is covered in acrylic, ink, or Flashe, with negative space appearing primarily just at the borders. The work is bold and fiery. There is a definitiveness to the strokes and shapes. Even the accidental drips feel confident and self-certain. And still, we also see softer moments of more careful, detailed strokes; the paler passages tell a lighter, airier story. Nature, as seen in Cortright’s work, is both benevolent and cruel.