B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
THE SECOND SHOW of the season at the PCC West Campus Art Gallery is a bold embrace of wildly different trends in contemporary art. Its three artists in turn represent post-modern borrowings from many different eras, unabashed and faithful abstraction and politicized feminist art.
Take Elizabeth Ingraham's hanging cloth bodies, for instance. Dangling listlessly in the center of the gallery like the emptied-out corpses of so many dead women, these soft fabric sculptures are carefully stitched and tucked and zippered and lined. Ingraham has diligently crafted the works until they're as well made as the most beautiful of dressmaker's garments. Ironically, she uses her prodigious labors to skewer the drudgery of traditional female domestic tasks and the refusal of the high-flying art world to acknowledge the art in women's crafts.
But the Seattle artist has turned craft into art with rich complexities of meaning. Her women are shaped and limited and sometimes stripped of life by the cultural patterns that are not so different from the patterns you buy at the fabric store. "accommodation,"(that's right, the "a" is lowercase, as are most of her titles) sewn in a lovely cabbage-rose cotton, is all about motherhood and childbirth and sacrifice. This woman's body has been taken over, front back and up and down the legs, by those cute little snaps that run all over baby jumpsuits. This woman's even been split in two by another swathe of fabric, which pours out of her crotch. That remnant could suggest the joyful moment when the baby's head emerges from the mother. Or it might foretell, a little less joyfully, of what the baby's drooping dirty diapers will look like in another year.
More ominously, "desire" is a dark brown velvet cloth woman with little slits cut into her "skin." The slits, fashioned in a shiny fabric dyed a pubic pink, look like vaginas. They also look like wounds. With her hanging head, suggestive of resignation or battering or even death, this woman seems to have tumbled into the maelstrom of male sexual violence. "deposition" is a woman's body of pale silk; it flutters helplessly at every breeze. Through the nearly transparent fabric you can glimpse thousands of hand-printed words. The title makes a legal connection: This may well be the carcass of a murdered woman, and the reams of legal documents and proceedings emanating after the fact can never restore her life.
Light years away from Ingraham's openly political works are the fervent abstractions of Josh Goldberg. Goldberg is local painter who, in a post-modernist age, is faithful to the lessons of modernism. His giant paintings take art back to the basics: They're above all about color and texture and composition. "Acogedor" is typical. An acrylic on wood panels, it's a cheerful ode to bright blue, orange, purple and yellow. "The Lung Blown Empty Blossoms" is a sophisticated composition in navy blue and white. But a few elements of creeping contemporariness make their way in: Loyal abstractionist Goldberg has here and there tempered the austere beauty of his paint with a couple of rough found objects, a piece of tin, a square of black linoleum, a grainy roof shingle.
Finally, there's Kentucky artist Dale Leys, who goes back in art historical time all the way to the great master draftsmen of the northern Renaissance. Leys' complex drawings in colored pencil and pastel reveal the same love for art-as-illusion that the Dutch still-life painters had. He also shares their delight in gadgetry and a penchant for exploration. In his big works, crowded with landscapes and mariner's tools and globes and maps, Leys here and there draws objects so real they look like they're hovering above his paper. A rake in "Scenario" even has a shadow drawn underneath it. That hyperrealistic garden tool is a bit like the trompe l'oeil fly that the Dutch artists delighted in painting in on top of their painted fish. In the case of both Leys and the Flemish masters, the artists are demonstrating their skill at artifice, and reminding us of the artificiality of art.
Despite all his enviable skill at drawing--his way with a pastel is formidable--Leys isn't interested in a realistic portrayal of the world around him. His drawings are dense fantasy-scapes, psychologically potent montages of the Kentucky countryside, of scenes under the earth and of geometric and scientific symbols. And just as he likes to mine the art of the past for his techniques, Leys likes to portray the passage of time.
"Constancy/Transiency, Transiency/Constancy" is a case in point. An oval drawing on the horizontal, it has a gold-and-pink sky and the blue-green grass of Kentucky on top, and on bottom a vision of the earth below its crust, filled with all the relics of passing time: a dinosaur skeleton, rock drawings, a pyramid. It's a geological meditation on past and present, and an artistic take on the intersection of art and science.
An exhibition of works by Elizabeth Ingraham, Josh Goldberg and Dale Leys will continue through November 7 at the PCC West Campus Art Gallery, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Ingraham will give a free gallery talk at 11 a.m. on Monday, November 6. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. For more information call 884-6385.
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