Of Bliss And Blisters

A Dinnerware Exhibition Captures The Security And Suffocation Of Domestic Stability.

By Margaret Regan

THE PERILS AND pleasures of domesticity have become something of a perennial subject in certain circles of contemporary art, and a pair of artists now showing at Dinnerware demonstrate just how different interpretations of home sweet home can be.

Betina Fink paints the delicate tension between security and suffocation in elegantly layered egg tempera paintings of childlike houses, alighting on the side of stability. Nadia Hlibka goes full bore in the other direction in mixed-media constructions that feature a headless Barbie in the kitchen and 24 real-life pairs of bridal shoes studded with sharp golden spikes on every sole.

Review Fink, a Rancho Linda Vista painter who spent several years living in Holland, contributed a dozen variations of her painted houses on paper. She uses the pared-down classic home that kids like to draw, pointy roof and all, no matter where they live. It's an evocative shape, conjuring up childhood memories, but it's simple enough to defer to her painterly explorations of color. Fink has made something of a specialty of the old-fashioned egg tempera technique. The recipe she uses, along the lines of whatever's in the kitchen, matches her subject to perfection, combining as it does ground pigments with egg yolk and solvents ranging from water to linseed oil to milk. This medium allows lovely variations in the paint, from transparent to translucent to opaque, and Fink has gotten some fine colorations of blues and rusts, and shots of orange.

A graduate of the UA master's program in the 1980s, like Hlibka and the other two artists in the show, painter Linda Caputo and sculptor John Davis, Fink has organized her houses in groups of four, two on top, two on bottom. Depending on how Fink treats them, the houses thrust themselves forward from the darker backgrounds, as in the more sculptural numbers IV, V, VI and VII, or retreat into the shadows, as in "21." Sometimes the houses are happily close together, others they're flung apart in the isolation of ex-urbia. The bands of color between the buildings can be like iron bars, but most often these houses are the quintessential home. In cheerful number VIII, with its blue, yellow, red and green, the houses flicker back and forth: first they're houses in a community, and then they metamorphose into welcoming lighted windows, beacons in the dark.

Hlibka finds little warmth inside the four walls of the traditional female domestic space. Her Barbie ("Because I Love You #18: Kitchen Barbie") shuttles around naked in a kitchen wall-papered with pages from The Joy of Cooking. She's been decapitated. And those spiked wedding shoes ("Because I Love You #15: Phantom Brides") conceal a lot of pain underneath their pretty jeweled exteriors. Hlibka has given the title "Because I Love You" to a whole series of uncomfortable works about marital discord, suggesting that romantic love excuses too many sins, particularly against women.

The artist delves into the painful ancestral past some mixed-media paintings that include olden-days portraits of husbands and wives. "Because I Love You #17: The Jewel" positions a sepia bride and groom at center of a frame gorgeously bejeweled with costume beads, but at the right an ancestral man walks decisively away. A scriptural quotation glued onto the piece "Look! I am come...to do your will, O God" seems to accuse patriarchal religion of helping to keep married women down. And a more contemporary bridal portrait, "#13: My Beautiful Bride," is just as pessimistic. A gleeful bride stands among her beaming bridesmaids, and the wedding bra in all its lacy glory is glued right below them. But the merriment was short-lived: a text deadpans that "The wedding was a success and went without a hitch. The marriage was a failure." Only "#16: The Baby Box," proffers a ray of hope. A beautiful baby doll rests in a white heart-shaped box. There are no hidden spikes in this one, just an unexpected celebration of one of the profound joys that can result from male-female coupling. Hlibka's subject overall may be morose, but she has a funny, kitschy sensibility that keeps her works from getting preachy. She does nice ego-id contrasts of, say, wild designs painted red all around a sober 19th century couple. And the cheerful "Rainbow Shoes," not in the "Because I Love You" series, marks the first time I've seen jewels so eloquently replace paint. Seven pairs of women's heels rest on a shelf covered with rich purple velvet. Hlibka has glued onto each and every shoe a lavish array of jewels, but she's kept her colors disciplined. The seven pairs strictly follow the color wheel, marching along in a dazzling array from purple at one end to red at the other.

An exhibition of work by Betina Fink, Nadia Hlibka, Linda Caputo and John Davis continues through Saturday, November 21, at Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Thursday, and 7 to 10 p.m. on Downtown Saturday Night, November 21. For more information call 792-4503. TW

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