"Olive Ayhens: Urbanites and Ur-Beasts" Reviewed in The New Yorker


Olive Ayhens

If the American modernist Florine Stettheimer had crossed paths with Greta Thunberg, her paintings might resemble the colorful, composite works of this Brooklyn-based artist, who brings a charmer’s touch to climate concerns. Ayhens has been working (mostly under the radar) since the nineteen-seventies, when the American Pattern and Decoration movement held sway; its influence lingers in her recent kaleidoscopic paintings, where whimsy tends to outstrip dread. In “Camelid in the City,” a prehistoric mammal perches on the banks of the East River, which is rendered as a flurry of acid greens; the camel’s yellow-and-orange hide echoes the glinting lights of the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Ayhens favors pictorial games in which interiors and exteriors flip; in the captivating watercolor “Downstairs Deluge”—an endearingly wobbly grid made of bridges and buildings, rippling currents and clouds—it’s hard to tell whether the surging water flanking a skyscraper is reflected in its glass façade or flooding its floors.

— Andrea K. Scott