Of course we recognize that photographers are capturing moments in time when they document what they see, since "reality" is their raw material. With other visual artists it’s usually a different ball game for us, because unless their work is photo-realistic, we recognize that they are drawing from their imaginations.
But Suspended Narratives asks, what about work that implies we have stepped into a story or a dream — what about that evocative extra dimension? A current show at University of Rhode Island presents nearly two dozen works by six artists. Its paintings, drawings, sculptures and collages are as diverse in emotional resonance as in media.
There’s a high spookiness quotient to this show, the sort that has to do with highly charged subconscious sources rather than that Halloween is approaching. The first thing that might strike you in the Main Gallery is the carnival of colors pulling your attention here and there. When images clamber out of these artists’ depths, few are dressed in shadowy grays.
The gallery layout directs us from left to right, so we’re guided to the eeriest work first. Joan Wildes’s two paintings pay homage to the grotesque landscapes of Bosch and the surreal ones of Magritte, with some late 19th-century fairy fantasy thrown in. That last one, "Parade V," has tiny naked women, some winged, assertively in charge in a world where they ride reined birds. Complementing that feminist realm in a different way, the show has three paintings by Judith Raphael. They present pre-adolescent girls displaying feisty spirit — two are playfully wrestling, one is angrily addressing someone out of frame. In "Pandora (Red Handed)," Raphael beautifully expands the merely naughty into mythic significance. The girl who has just lifted the top of a circular container of red substance is looking defiantly off — at the person who told her not to? Red polka dots in her dress echo the crime, all against a backdrop of birds and military aircraft in flight.
Animal imagery comes up a lot here, as the artists merge identities with, or at least identify with, our planetary colleagues. The most direct reminders are Cynthia Consentino’s sculptures. A wolf-headed girl stands poised to flee — or pounce — next to a stooped rabbit-headed girl. A bonus connection is offered when we go around a partition, where we can see that they are facing another painted clay statue, of a little girl as innocently asleep as if in the bear family’s bed.
The three collages by Michael Oatman impress us with more than their density of imagery. Using an anonymous found watercolor of a collonaded Greco-Roman public building, he has placed found images before it, carefully arranged to provide receding perspective — a polished man’s shoe and a TWA baggage ticket, a cradle and an open lipstick, and so on. Since Oatman collects these objects from magazine ads and the like, rather than reproducing them, their "thingness" remains, for less mediated impact. Titled "Tuesday: from a newspaper article about the large number of personal effects," it’s a disconcerting post-9/11 response.
But when it comes to packing in the images, Barbara Rachko’s four towering, five-feet-high drawings could hardly keep the eye, or the mind, busier. In a corner are some of the models she draws from, such as Mexican papier-mâché figures. More than scale pulls us into these worlds. Not only are the colors fiesta bold, they are done with pastels on fine-grade sandpaper, which gives a dreamy softness to the tableaus she arranges. And then there are the titles, "No Cure for Insomnia," "Answering the Call," which compel us to formulate a story to match them, like garish Rorschach tests. In "Truth Betrayed by Innocence," a seated mustached man is explaining or imploring us; next to him is what could be an executioner’s hood and figurines such as a peasant woman and a dragon. You get the picture.
Deborah Brown paints dogs, sometimes along with their owners, placing them against unnaturally garish but single-color, dimensionless backgrounds. An orange or lime green backdrop takes us aback, grabbing our attention more than would baroque gilt frames. When we first step into the gallery, what faces us is a painting by Brown of some black-and-white mutt looking up expectantly, adoringly, as though we’d just returned from work. This reaching out to us from off the canvas in "Cadbury VII" and inviting us into an unfathomable state of mind strikes the perfect tone for the compelling offerings in Suspended Narratives.
Issue Date: October 31 - November 6, 2003
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