The Location of Serenity at D R O N E

In Dialogue with Gryphon Rue

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The Location of Serenity (installation image, 2021). Photo: Jimi Billingsley

The inaugural group exhibition at D R O N E, a non-profit arts space in Tribeca, brings together four New York-based artists – Elsa Rensaa, Viktor Timofeev, Yasue Maetake and Eddie Natal – who explore recent memory from loss and death to spiritual regrowth. Gryphon Rue, a New York-based artist, composer, and curator, organized the exhibition and sheds some light on its premise. The show closes June 29th, or July 10th, 2021, depending on imminent leasing of the space.

You describe this show as an exploration of the “surreal climate of death” and “regrowth”, which seems in part to reflect on our recent experience of the pandemic. Please tell me more about it.

Death, the plague, disruptions of systems are in our face, permeating our lives, saturating the periphery. And yet, interior states of serenity bear external signs – a smile, a gesture, a vibe eluding the quantified actualities of the external world. Various questions drift in the air: must a location be a physical place? Can serenity bear internal contradiction? Does ambivalence disrupt serenity’s location? How do I find this Location of Serenity?

Let’s take a closer look at the works in the show, starting with Elsa Rensaa, who in the 1970-90’s produced icon paintings integrating symbols, references to syncretic visions derived from Ancient civilization, and Lower East Side iconography. Can you highlight these elements in Title unknown (Mona Lisa and L’inconnue de La Seine), Rensaa’s largest painting in the show?

Elsa Rensaa’s Title unknown (Mona Lisa and l’inconnue de La Seine) (1981-82) is a personal iconography derived from Assyrian, Renaissance, Belle Époque, and other sources. It is divided by two different opacities, suggesting a diptych, and its frame is painted to imitate woodgrain. On its left section is a man in flowing robes (think Pontormo) extending his hands (recalling the “winged genies” of Assyrian statues) to a young woman with a rainbow headdress (a wimple?). The woman is an embellishment of l’inconnue de La Seine, the unknown woman who in the late 1800’s drowned in the Seine and was discovered with an expression so prepossessingly ambiguous that someone cast her face into a mask. The story gained legendary status with figures such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Vladimir Nabokov, Anaïs Nin, Man Ray, and many other artists who kept replicas in their studios. Peering from behind l’inconnue de La Seine is Mona Lisa. The faces share the same tight-lipped smile – there is a disorder called risus sardonicus that causes the facial muscles to tighten in a sardonic grin. Elsa was fascinated by the mordant humor. Perhaps it is here we find one location of serenity. The paint is acrylic – most of Elsa’s paintings are – which is amazing, because they are so luscious. Elsa worked as a chromist, reproducing drawings by Picasso as lithographs. Figurative painting and new age aesthetics are au courant, so most people are surprised by the dates of her paintings (they range from the 1970s-1990s).

Elsa Rensaa’s Title unknown (Mona Lisa and l’inconnue de La Seine), 1981-82 (detail). Photo: Jimi Billingsley

In response to one of Rensaa’s paintings. Viktor Timofeev made a site-specific mural – a labyrinthine ‘set’ populated by several organic protrusions escaping through the corridor’s angular crevices.” What is the relationship between the two artists’ works?

Viktor Timofeev’s Stage for Elsa (2021) is a site-specific pastel mural with Title unknown (Mona Lisa and l’inconnue de La Seine) (1981-82) at its center. The gallery floor appears to rise up into space, extending in a perilous path of geometric chunks and fissures with spiraling vegetative forms. People tend to think the painting is directly on the wall – one must approach to see it extrude into space while the path pulls us forward. The combined effect suggests a labyrinth of crevices and enveloping architecture, terminating in angels in the blackness of the painting. It reminds me of the Buddhist concept of the Bardo period in which the dead must make informed decisions to ensure arrival at their destination. Viktor shaded the wall with his bare hands – it was very physically demanding, and he ended each day covered with pastel dust. He has a vocabulary of twisting growth forms reaching through matrices of corridors, which rhyme with Elsa’s ribbons and fabrics. The mural makes origami from the wall, setting a twilight noir of columns and shadows that change with the natural light.

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Viktor Timofeev, Stage for Elsa, 2021, framing Elsa Rensaa’s Title unknown (Mona Lisa and l’inconnue de La Seine), 1981-82. Photo: Jimi Billingsley

Yasue Maetake’s three table-top to human-sized sculptures are made of metal, resin, and animal bones. What does the viewer see and what is your take on the artist’s work in the context of this show?

Entering the space you are confronted with a tall frangible beast with resinous fungal forms that subtly glisten – Ascending Industrial Bouquets (2016) could be the charred remains of a baby dinosaur, or plastic in the afterlife. Perched nearby is Symbolic Atmosphere III (2019), an orb of clay, steel and bone, conjuring up the skulls of small creatures or a blanched model of the Death Star. Her sculptures are evidence of a place beyond worldly concerns – perhaps a place where suffering has ceased to exist. They have much evocative power and a cultivated ambiguity, which is a common thread in the exhibition. The gleaming spikes of Symbolic Atmosphere VI signal a warning, its overt menace pulls up errant emotions from under the surface of Elsa’s paintings, which delude you with serene expressions. Picture Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa dredged from a maelstrom.

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Yasue Maetake, Symbolic Atmosphere VI, 2019 (left) with Viktor Timofeev, Stage for Elsa, 2021 and Elsa Rensaa, Title unknown (Mona Lisa and l’inconnue de La Seine), 1981-82 (right). Photo: Jimi Billingsley
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Yasue Maetake, Symbolic Atmosphere VI, 2019 (detail) with Elsa Rensaa, Title unknown (Goddess and Police Headquarters), ca. 1980 (background). Photo: Jimi Billingsley
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Yasue Maetake, Ascending Industrial Bouquets, 2016 (foreground). Photo: Jimi Billingsley

What would you like to share about Eddie Natal’s drawing and how it fits in this show?

My friend laughed when I told her that Eddie Natal worked as a locksmith – it makes sense! The drawing is a riot of geometry, an interlocking psychological trip softened by colored pencil and ink. I placed it on a little wall in the front area, a nodal point – it ties the room together. Just as the paintings have symbols to decode, the drawing has embedded words which are not visible at a glance. The density of the kaleidoscope echoes the mural and sends its forms dancing across the room. I was delighted when a visitor pointed out how the shape of the yo-yo eyes in the drawing correspond to the porous cavities of Symbolic Atmosphere III, which sits nearby. When I found the drawing it was folded up and push-pinned to a wall in a room with no lightbulb in Clayton Patterson’s loft – it had been there 20 or 30 years.

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Eddie Natal, Untitled (Kaleidoscope), date unknown. Photo: Jimi Billingsley

The Location of Serenity at D R O N E Featuring: Elsa Rensaa, Viktor Timofeev, Yasue Maetake, Eddie Natal; Organized by Gryphon Rue Open Thursday-Saturday, 2-6 PM Please email for any inquiries 1 Hudson Street and Chambers St corner, New York, NY 10013

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: