Perambulating the Bounds

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nashville Visual Arts Events August 1-15

OK, it’s the beginning of the month, but it looks like a slightly slow month. Makes sense, it’s August. Cumberland will have their summer long show up for a while, LeQuire’s running summer favorites. And then there’s the people who don’t seem to have me on their email list, or seem ambivalent about publicizing. (There’s a surprising amount of that going around.) Didn’t used to worry about it, now that I’m doing this it’s more of a problem.

As I will keep saying, if you have an email list of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email version of this listing, send me an email at dcmaddox@comcast.net. To get taken off the list, email to that effect at the same address.

August 3

SooPlex Julian Rogers open studio I got a chance to see Julian’s paintings a few weeks ago in process. They are big, energetic paintings that stack up a few disparate images from pop culture and contemporary life into symmetrical collage-like combinations. They have a slick photographic quality that reminded me of James Rosenquist. The size, colors, and angles made them jump off the wall. They have velocity. A little like Rosenquist again. Julian’s got a more high-minded explanation: “These paintings push the impact of sublime Americana images by presenting them as an altar or monument that may or may not have failed. By juxtaposing icons of the pleasurable, the terrible and the transcendent, the resultant painted collages become ironic, transgressive, humorous and sexy, while keeping at a critical distance their affinities. It is glorified eschatology.” OK, I always have to look up eschatology—concerning theology or doctrines of death, judgment, resurrection, immortality. Or maybe “ultimate concern” as Tillich would put it. The statement does make sense when you see the paintings. Again, the size and dimensions are like the big Baroque paintings that were once in a church altarpiece. 4:30-8:00 at 427 Chestnut.

August 4

Twist 1st Anniversary Mail Art Show When it opened a year ago, Twist immediately became an integral part of the lively Arcade/5th Avenue scene, thanks in no small part to the degree to which Caroline Carlisle and Beth Gilmore, the proprietors, came to it already highly plugged in to the art scene. For their anniversary, they asked anybody who cared to to send in a mail-sized art work, postcards and the like, and they would display everything they got. Caroline sent me a list of what they have so far, and there are pieces from something like 23 people, including Dwayne Butcher of the Art Butcher blog in Memphis, submissions from artists you’ll recognize if you go to galleries in Nashville, pieces from more far flung friends and associates with a few degrees of separation, and some anonymous things.


TAG The main show is called “Distillery Burning,” featuring work by the Image Distillery group of illustrators: Bryce McCloud (of Isle of Printing fame), Gina Binkley, Dan Brawner (a Watkins professor who has done wonderful things that incorporate his childhood drawings, and some nice charcoal drawings inspired by the NES tree cutting), Jim Sheradden and Bob and Val Tillery. In the smaller back gallery, they’ll show a new series from R. Ellis Orral, painting over the covers of books he picks up in thrift stores.

Arts Company, “White Pony Cadillac: Old Loves & New Blues,” Jonathon Kimbrell. Kimbrell is a young artist with an old soul, painting portraits of pioneer rock, blues and country musicians and the more contemporary people like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits who have an obvious affinity for those roots. You imagine that he thinks of himself having been born a few decades too late. This reception starts a little earlier than some of the others, 5-7.

SQFT “To Nashville, Love Brooklyn,” Caitlin Keegan and Julia Rothman. Both of these artists make their living as illustrators and designers, and that seems to translate into work with decorative patterning in its DNA. Rothman’s densely populated drawings and paintings are filled with people, Keegan seems to place figures in more isolated contexts.

Downtown Presbyterian Church In addition to the gallery openings, we’re (I’m a member here) doing our pot luck dinner with art on offer by the resident artists (Shane Doling, Beth Gilmore, Heidi Schwartz, Tom Wills, Richard Feaster). This month we’re going for a really church-y thing and serving banana splits at 8:00 until they run out. And Tom Wills is showing some films in the alley.

Estel Deb Garlick, “White Dresses” This show opened on July 25 and continues, but the gallery is going to do an artist’s reception on the 4th. This is a series of paintings of women and girls in white dresses by a Canadian painter who is interested in the things white dresses represent in our society in different contexts, whether it’s a wedding gown or a white summer dress.

August 10

Centennial Art Center, Gayle Levée, Lori Putnam & Brenda Stein This show includes two painters (Levée and Putnam) and a wood turner (Stein). The two painters position themselves both in traditionalist stylistic camps: Centennial’s PR describes Levée as a “Classical-Realist,” and Putnam uses the phrase “Contemporary Impressionist” for herself. Levée works in the traditional genres, still life, landscape, and portraiture; the portraits on her website succeed in making the subjects look they were posing in 1907. Brenda Stein is the one of the 3 that interests me the most. I’ve seen her work pretty regularly, including a big selection of pieces in Clarksville a while back. She works with all sorts of wood, and crafts pieces that are seamless and graceful. Many of them retain some of the rough edges of the wood, which maintains a link to the organic material sources and contrasting with the smooth surfaces. She also is willing to invoke higher ideas with her titles—one on her website is called “The Shaman,” which makes you associate it with a ceremonial vessel, and with ritual relationships between people and trees. Another artist might have just called this piece “black walnut bowl” and left it at that. I don’t always like art that relies on titles to spark your interest, but I think in this case, Brenda’s titles give you that little push to encourage your imagination to play with the form. The opening for this show is 5-7 on the Friday the 10th.

Ruby Green, Jean Flint and Judy Rushin I just got the notice on this, will fill in more details over the next few days. The artists are both from Hammond, Louisiana. Flint does sculptures/installations, Rushin is a painter. They look like they share an interest in as Rushin describes it, "detritus," and are attuned to the signs of decay. But that could be off base. I need to look at some more.

August 11

Plowhaus, “Bauhaus@Plowhaus” In addition to making an association between Weimar Germany’s great collective and Nashville’s Plowhaus coop, this exhibit features a couple of collaborations that could be good: Beth Seiters and Robert Bruce Scott, Carri Hofaker and Connie Knoch, and Franne Lee and Bil Breyer. This is going to be one of their large group shows, with solo contributions from Marlynda Augelli, John Barcus, Landry Butler, Lynne Carter, Motke Dapp, Mel Davenport, Christopher Cheney, Heather Day, Keith Herendon, John Holland, Jan kendy, Carrie Mills, Robbie Hunsinger, Janet Lee, Stephen McClure, Jammie Preston, Tracy Ratliff, and Belinda Yandell. Like usual it runs a little later than most openings, from 7-11, with live music.

August 12

CRAFT: A Creative Community A group of local artists/artisans holds a monthly sale/fair in the parking lot of Lipstick Lounge, the next one is 11-5 on Sunday, August 12.

Other announcements

I learned from an email announcing his yard sale that Tom Thayer is leaving MTSU and going to NY. I’m sure that a good move for him, but it sucks for Middle Tennessee. Tom has one of the widest ranges of artists in the area, and was forming a bridge between visual arts realms and the more advanced fringes of the music and performance scene.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

People sure like art don't they?

With the Alice Aycock piece getting unveiled today downtown, Jonathan Marx did a big piece on it for the Tennessean (as did Susan Knowles on WPLN). But you've got to check out the comments readers posted with Jonathan's article. This one roused all the wingnuts out of their holes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

New favorite museum, Des Moines Art Center

When you get to Iowa, and with any luck everyone will, go to the Des Moines Art Center. Wow. I kept seeing the signs in the airport for the Des Moines Art Center, which showed a fun statue (“Animal Pyramid” by Bruce Nauman) and I had a feeling it would be good. I had no idea. Thanks to a combination of inevitable Central Time Zone summer storms and inevitable equipment problems on the airplane, I got a free day in Des Moines and was able to check it out.

To start with the building(s). The foundation is a 1948 structure by Eliel Saarinen, which has Prairie style horizontal lines and an open layout. To this the museum added a wing by I.M. Pei during the years one hired I.M. Pei for such things (1968) and one by Richard Meier from the years when one hired him to do such things (1985). If they were in the market for a new wing a couple of years ago I’m sure they would’ve gotten Gehry, but I’m grateful we were spared that. Each wing has its merits, although taken together it feels a little like an architecture collection.

I’m going to try to write at length about one of the special exhibits later. The permanent collection is of consistently high quality, and really picks up in the 1960s going forward. There are strong older pieces like a couple of Picassos, a nice Klee, prints from various eras, and works by interesting less common people like the Russians Larianov, Goncharova, and Rozanova. But the collection doesn’t go back much farther in painting and sculpture. They don’t seem to have Old Masters, which is what you would expect—it’s hard to imagine Iowa had world class fortunes during the period when Old Masters were on the market.

The last half of the 20th Century, American and European artists, especially Germans, are well represented. A Rothko, a Gottlieb, Diebenkorns of the abstract and representational variety. Two major pieces by Sol LeWit—a set of 56 cubes that have the scale of a minor architectural site, and a massive painting covering a huge wall in the Pei wing. Several Agnes Martins.

For art of the last 30 years, there seems to be a good example of everything. A great Eva Hesse construction (four fiberglass-coated wire mesh forms with umbilical cord or intenstine-like latex covered coils coming out of them). A big strong Kiefer, with Holocaust-evoking train tracks. A Joseph Beuys blackboard for crying out loud. John Currin doing the 3 Graces meet Desperate Housewives—I hate to admit it, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a Currin painting in the flesh, and it does have an undeniable presence. Everything seems to get touched on—a Julian Schnabel plate painting from 1978. A little Chris Offili. Obviously I could go on and on.

So just file that away for your next trip to Iowa. Or if you’re driving across the country on I-80--get off the highway.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nashville Visual Arts Events July 13-27

Last week I said I’m going to do this twice a month, but I missed at least a major thing for next weekend so I’m going to send out something this week. I’ll send something out next week if it seems like there’s new stuff. But this might also be it until the beginning of August.

To any of you with email lists of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email version of this listing, send me an email at dcmaddox@comcast.net. To get taken off the list, email to that effect at the same address.

July 13

Cheekwood Pradip Malde, “Looking at God” Malde is a highly regarded photographer at Sewanee. The opening reception for the show is Friday, July 13 from 6-8 (earlier PR said the show was opening a week earlier). According to the PR for the show, the photos show people’s faces, but the surrounding environment is obscured, putting them in an undecipherable context. You can see how that approach can be the basis for ways of understanding and representing the Divine.

In the main building, Cheekwood is showing items from their permanent collection selected by local celebrities (Chris Clark, Gordon Gee (wait, does he still count?), Crystal Gayle, John and Fiona Prine, Ronal Serpas, Demetria Kalodimos, etc.). The PR on the show is all about the selectors, nothing about what art they’ve selected, which rubs me the wrong way—but they’ve probably got the right idea. The pieces will mostly be familiar, so the fun will be in the surprise of seeing what different people select. The show also points out one of Cheekwood’s challenges, which is how to keep their permanent collection in circulation given the limited exhibit space. Even with the limitations of the collection, they owe it to everyone concerned to have the stuff on view, and they also owe it to their budget. The Material Terrain sculpture show was great, but it must have cost a lot in payments to the organizers and in installation costs. So they are doubly motivated to schedule shows from the collection, but they’ve got to keep it interesting. This seems like as good a way as any to do that.

Finally, Cheekwood has their outdoor show of interactive installations for kids, this year with the theme of fairy tales and children’s stories. I enjoy seeing what people come up with, what works and doesn’t.

July 14


Estel Harry Underwood This is a closing reception for a one week kind of a trunk show of Harry’s work, which opens on July 10. The highlight should be the opportunity afforded by the gallery’s spacious walls for Harry to exhibit a monumental 8 by 11 foot mural.


Zeitgeist Greg Pond and Bjørn Sterri I suppose everyone knows Greg from his role as a key person in the Fugitive Art Center and from the work he has shown. He shows reasonably frequently, but not so often that it's easy to feel up to date with his work. He keeps pushing into new arenas (he's been doing a lot of work with sound for a few years) so each outing has something new in it. Photographer Sterri is from Norway (you might have guessed that) and is presenting a series of works that start with a process of continually taking instant Polaroids and large format B&W pictures of his family. He selects images from across formats and years to create a single sequence of images that presents a complex narrative.

July 15

CRAFT: A Creative Community A group of local artists/artisans holds a monthly sale/fair in the parking lot of Lipstick Lounge, the next one is 11-5 on Sunday, July 15. I posted on this as an example of a growing phenomenon of craft production and design developing outside the mainstreams of the craft world, or becoming a third main stream.

July 20

Plowhaus "Colonel" J.D. Wilkes, James Mundie, and Brett Whitacre: “Freaks and Geaks.” Wilkes is a Plowhaus founder, a member of the Legendary Shack Shakers, and a devotee of comic Southern gothic visions in his visual art work. The sideshow flavor continues with Mundie’s drawings of conjoined twins and characters straight from a circus midway tent show. Whitacre picks up discarded things like TV sets and uses them as platforms for paintings.

Parthenon John Hung Ha This artist has the gallery space next to SQFT in the Arcade where he shows his work—if you’ve been past that section of the second floor, you probably noticed the big images of koi in what looks like enamel (might just be the way he finishes the paintings, I’m not sure). Now he’s got a show at the Parthenon. Haven’t gotten any details on what will be in this show.

July 25

Estel Deb Garlick, “White Dresses” A series of paintings of women and girls in white dresses by a Canadian painter. The painter is interested in the things white dresses represent in our society in different contexts, whether it’s a wedding gown or a white summer dress.

July 27

Untitled Glow Show Untitled’s annual fundraising, features things that glow under black lights. Held this year at the Bar Car. Don’t know about you, but black light effects entertain me pretty much as thoroughly today as they did when I was a kid.

Metro Arts Commission is opening an exhibit by Jairo Prado and Melissa Kennedy. Teri McElhaney has this description of Prado's work in the show: "He has some rather free form canvases called "glyphs" that look calligraphic and Mayan at the same time, very beautiful. We're also including some fantastic wood constructions you may have seen before."

Watkins College of Art and Design. Senior shows from four BFA students are opening on the 27th: Matt Christy, Anna Gonzalez, John Whitten, and Coffey May. These were some of the people involved in the __nym group. There's something kind of aesthetically militant about this year's class at Watkins, and it makes for work that can be bracing and challenging.

Closing

SooPlex “A Church, a Courtroom, and then Good-bye” This show will be up at least through tomorrow (Friday the 13th), maybe Saturday. You’ll have to contact Mike Calway-Fagan or Julian Rogers to arrange to see it. I’m planning to get over there Friday. This presents four British artists looking at country music. (One of the artists and the curator Veronica Kavass were raised in Nashville but now live in the UK.) Jonathan Marx did a good write up describing the show.

Other announcements

As part of its concept as an atelier and an ongoing mission to promote traditional artistic technique, LeQuire Gallery offers studio classes. I’m pretty sure they’ve done this consistently for some time. This summer they have an open studio class concentrating on figure drawing with Murat Kaboulov offered every Tuesday night through August, and three five-day workshops:

  • The Portrait in Oil with Murat Kaboulov - July 24th - 28th
  • Capturing a Likeness in Clay with Alan LeQuire - July 31st - August 4th
  • Figure Drawing with Jonathan Bowers - August 7th - 11th

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pictures of bars

Since Maggie Evans makes a point of relying on memory for her charcoal drawings of the interiors of the bars where her blues band plays, I’ll do the same. I saw the work last night and had a good long talk with her, but I’m a couple of states away from Tennessee for the next few days. So I can’t go back to the gallery to check my details.

First of all, some background. Evans is from Savannah, trained as a visual artist at Savannah College of Art and Design, and she’s also a musician—her dad was a musician, so she grew up with it. She plays bass in a blues trio that works bars around Savannah, and she also has a trio more in a jazz vein where she sings and plays bass. I think this is important for a couple of reasons. First, she’s not a musician who moved into art, or an art school grad whose art school band took off and then got back to music later. From the other side, her music-making sure sounds like it’s not dabbling.

The works at Dangenart are relatively large scale charcoal drawings of the interiors of bars, most often from an on-stage perspective, none showing the band or instruments. You wouldn’t know from the images that music was involved. The view fixes on the patrons. Some of the views are empty of people, others show people sitting at tables or coming into the room. The images are blurred, with liberal use of erasure. In one, a person coming in through a doorway in the back of the room is a ghost, as if momentarily caught in a long-exposure camera shot. All of the details have a spectral quality.

This treatment of the scene takes you in a couple of directions. One of which is to see it as a metaphor for memory, where you remember things hazily. Which is really not that interesting an idea, akin to putting vasoline on a camera lens to indicate a dream sequence. But there’s more. The drawings remind you in mind of occult photography that captures images of the spirit world, and that’s an interesting way to think of how a musician sees the people in the bar. Fleeting presences, not quite flesh and blood. Even in the images empty of people, your mind easily feels the sensation of their traces left behind. (Evans mentioned something like this herself in describing these scenes.)

I came away thinking about how as a musician, while there is a connection with the audience, you also occupy a space separate from the audience. You are embedded in the sounds, get lost in the physical sensation of sound and in the concerns of music making—the details of musical structure, dealing with the technical demands of your own instrument, and playing together. There is a sort of scrim that separates you from whatever goes on outside of the sound world. It even separates you from your fellow musicians as flesh and blood, as you focus on the sound they are making.

The drawings have a dreamy surface, but they are carefully observed, even if remembered. These are working bars, rough spaces where people go to drink and party. The kind of place with stackable chairs with leatherette seats and backings, overbright lights that glare from some corners. Places where the bathrooms are none too clean, and when it rains the bartender puts out a few buckets to catch leaks. Evans doesn’t emphasize the potential squalor in these places, even to romanticize it, but she observes straight enough that you can tell where you are.

These drawings achieve a lot through a pretty simple premise. They’re just drawings of a very common sort of interior. But you are aware of the people who use these places, even when they aren’t present. You are aware of the degrees to which we see but don’t see, and share time with people but remain distant. These pictures treat that separateness matter of factly, not as a cause for sadness. In the same way, there is no great romance of night life here, but that doesn’t mean the images speak the opposite. The spaces are treated as sites of common life. Reassuring and comfortable are the words that come to mind.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nashville Visual Arts Events July 4-15

I’m going to start trying to do a twice monthly run-down of shows opening in Nashville, with some commentary on my part. To any of you with email lists of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email version of this listing, send me an email at dcmaddox@comcast.net.

I’m not going to make any claims to comprehensiveness in these listings. This will be what I think is notable of what I know about.

If I get ambitious in the future, I might start to list shows closing. Or just do it with ones I, with my biases, think are worth running out to see. And in the future I might include some visuals, but I didn’t have time to ask permission and I’ve got to consider what that will do to the size of the email version of this.

Shows opening July 7

TAG Gallery “Lucky 7” TAG tries its best to replicate the virtues of a NY gallery here in Nashville. And if it’s summer, it must be group show season, often with gallery artists. Which is what TAG has on offer. The seven artists in this show are Lesley Patterson-Marx, Nicole Pietrantoni, Erin Anfinson, Anna Jaap, Jodi Hays, Lisa Norris, and Mary Sue Kern. The first reason to lead with this show is that all 7 are very good. But this is also Nicole’s last show in Nashville before she leaves for the MFA program in Printmaking at the University of Iowa. It’s a great move for her. The Iowa program has long been one of the best in the nation, for many years built around Mauricio Lazansky. Nicole’s work has developed consistently since she finished Vanderbilt, and getting a chance for the immersion experience of a first rate art school should be great for her. I hope she’ll keep showing her work in Nashville—she’s made a great contribution to the body of work produced in this town so far, and you want to see where she takes it. There’s something to say about everyone else here, but I from what Jerry Dale says, Lesley Patterson-Marx brought in a couple of unreasonably great handmade books for the show. She does sublime stuff in this form consistently.

SQFT Rachel Salomon A young artist from Brooklyn, like a lot of SQFT artists there’s also a Providence, RI connection (she went to Brown). There’s a strong influence of Japanese illustration in her work, and an interest in decorative patterns and design. She also works as an illustrator, with big time media clients like Blue Note Records and the New Yorker. http://www.rachelsalomon.com/index.html

Dangenart Maggie Evans and Nathaniel Hester In addition to being a Savannah College of Art and Design-trained artist, Evans plays bass in a blues band, and has done a series of charcoal drawings from a stage view, from memory. The one sample Daniel Lai sent out in the PR looks like a dreamy photograph blurred at the edges. Hester is a printmaker who has done a number of book projects that marry intaglio and relief block cuts to contemporary poetry.

SooPlex “A Church, a Courtroom, and then Good-bye” This is a show of four British artists looking at country music. (One of the artists and the curator Veronica Kavass were raised in Nashville but now live in the UK.) Jonathan Marx did a good write up describing this show I’ve always be fascinated by how much Brits love country music. British fans have been a staple of Nashville’s tourism industry for a long time, you’ve got examples like Elvis Costello’s enthusiasm for George Jones, or Jon Langford’s presentation of hard core country music in terms of rock, rebellion, class politics and economic critique. The show’s title sounds like something Langford might use. So this exhibit could be pretty enlightening, or annoying.

July 13

Cheekwood Pradip Malde, “Looking at God” Malde is a highly regarded photographer at Sewanee. The opening reception for the show is Friday, July 13 from 6-8 (earlier PR said the show was opening a week earlier). According to the PR for the show, the photos show people’s faces, but the surrounding environment is obscured, putting them in an undecipherable context. You can see how that approach can be the basis for ways of understanding and representing the Divine.

In the main building, Cheekwood is showing items from their permanent collection selected by local celebrities (Chris Clark, Gordon Gee, Crystal Gayle, John and Fiona Prine, Ronal Serpas, Demetria Kalodimos, etc.). The PR on the show is all about the selectors, nothing about what art they’ve selected, which rubs me the wrong way—but they’ve probably got the right idea. The pieces will mostly be familiar, so the fun will be in the surprise of seeing what different people select. The show also points out one of Cheekwood’s challenges, which is how to keep their permanent collection in circulation given the limited exhibit space. Even with the limitations of the collection, they owe it to everyone concerned to have the stuff on view, and they also owe it to their budget. The Material Terrain sculpture show was great, but it must have cost a lot in payments to the organizers and in installation costs. So they are doubly motivated to schedule shows from the collection, but they’ve got to keep it interesting. This seems like as good a way as any to do that.

Finally, Cheekwood has their outdoor show of interactive installations for kids, this year with the theme of fairy tales and children’s stories. I enjoy seeing what people come up with, what works and doesn’t.

July 14

Estel Harry Underwood This is a closing reception for a one week kind of a trunk show of Harry’s work, which opens on July 10. The highlight should be the opportunity afforded by the gallery’s spacious walls for Harry to exhibit a monumental 8 by 11 foot mural.

Zeitgeist Greg Pond and Bjørn Sterri I suppose everyone knows Greg from his role as a key person in the Fugitive Art Center and from the work he has shown. He shows reasonably frequently, but not so often that it's easy to feel up to date with his work. He keeps pushing into new arenas (he's been doing a lot of work with sound for a few years) so each outing has something new in it. Photographer Sterri is from Norway (you might have guessed that) and is presenting a series of works that start with a process of continually taking instant Polaroids and large format B&W pictures of his family. Images are selected from across formats and years to create a complex narrative.

July 15

CRAFT: A Creative Community A group of local artists/artisans holds a monthly sale/fair in the parking lot of Lipstick Lounge, the next one is 11-5 on Sunday, July 15. I posted on this as an example of a growing phenomenon of craft production and design developing outside the mainstreams of the craft world, or becoming a third main stream.

Other announcements

Twist Gallery is going to be open by appointment only during July while Beth Gilmore is away at the Art Institute of Chicago-affiliated Ox-Bow School (the gallery will be open on gallery crawl night).

Cumberland Gallery is closed for vacation through this weekend, but reopens with regular hours on July 10.

A few Nashville people (Jacqueline Meeks, Patrick DeGuira, Jodi Hays, Kit Reuther, Jack Ryan, Gregg Schlanger) are in a juried regional show at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, which runs through September 9.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sara La's show at Zeitgeist

Sara La is one of the painters in town whose work I try to follow closely. She brings to bear a rich set of personal and cultural references, a willingness to play either a surrealist or realist card, and the ability to establish a dignified, pensive tone. One thing through it all, even when I’m not crazy about a particular painting, is that she seems like a artist in motion, working through things. I would say working towards something, but that implies her paintings are not fully formed. It’s not that at all. It’s just there’s a sense of direction to the movement between pieces and bodies of work.

Sara’s got new paintings up at Zeitgeist now through Saturday. Get down there and take a look. Let’s say there’s 3 threads in these paintings: a series of domestic studies, a linked set of surrealist pieces, and a couple of allegorical paintings. And the threads go together pretty neatly.

The domestic studies are a cycle of 4 season paintings: a self-portrait (I think) with just her face visible from underneath burnt orange covers (Fall), a painting of Sara’s torso in which she lifts up her shirt to show her belly and breasts (Winter), and a picture of her dog for Summer. The Spring painting is a closeup of skin with drops of water on it. A small seedling sprouts from one of the water drops. OK, this is more in keeping with the surrealist tendency, so let me turn to that.

These paintings involve images of her husband, the artist Chris Scarborough. The key painting is called “Manageable” and it shows Chris lying on a couch, but his body has been cut into clean slices (no blood or innards), like he has gone through a bread slicer. His arms are neatly stowed beneath the couch. The painting puns the idea of Manageableness from several angles. For one, a time when complicated creatures (babies, dogs, husbands) are manageable is when they’re sleeping; other times, all bets are off. Also, it’s a play on “slicing something into manageable pieces.” Which she does to her husband.

Lest anyone think there is anger latent in her treatment of Chris’ image, it’s worth keeping in mind that Chris has done his share of manipulating and playing tricks with Sara’s image in his work. This playing with each other’s image, it’s just something they do.

One individual slice of Chris’ head recurs in a couple of other paintings. In one, “Ward,” a slice around Chris’ eyes and nose sits in an abstract space, with 8 fingers sticking out of it and a few bird eggs lying around. Two crows loiter in the dark background of the image. Then in “Weather,” a crow carries that slice of Chris’ face in its beak. Water beads up on the crow, and storm clouds crowd the background. In a wonderful detail, some of the paint beads up in the upper part of the canvas and catches light, looking like drops of water flying off Chris’ face.

“Weather” reminded me of Rembrandt’s painting of Ganymede, where the eagle carries the boy off into a stormy sky. Sara’s painting captures the drama of Baroque painting, and does so without being didactically allusive—it’s not a take-off on another painting (contrasted say with Alexis Rockman’s update of the Ecstasy of S. Teresa that I posted on a while back). What’s more, the image takes the surrealist image play and gives it mythological dimensions. Even if you don’t connect it to Ganymede, it looks like a scene out of myth you haven’t heard yet. “The man fell into slices and then a crow came along and carried away his eyes, and nose, and ears. And that’s why to this day…” By the way, it’s worth something that Sara chose a slice of the face that includes the major organs of perception.

By this point, the domestic paintings and the surrealist ones are pretty mixed up together. The family’s there in all of them, common elements like the water drops recur. At times the paintings seem to be making jokes, at other times making myths, and certainly establishing an environment where there’s no reason to separate those activities.

The quasi-myth of these crows and manageable slices leads to the final two paintings with directly symbolic content. One is a diptych of a man and a woman, naked, each carrying a dead dog’s carcass over their shoulders. You know they are Adam and Eve without even seeing the title card. Again, it doesn’t take much art history to associate side-by-side paintings of a nude man and woman with this theme. But Sara’s Adam and Eve are hunters. (And they don’t seem to be portraits of her and Chris.)

The next part requires some help. Lain York explains that the canines are some sort of Australian dog that was hunted to extinction. But there’s nothing about the painting that tells you that, and the dogs could be something more common like a hyena. This is probably the least successful painting in the show. In addition to needing an explanation, the figures are stiff and don’t quite make sense in relation to the other figures in the show. But this painting is important to overall impact of the show. While the figures are not portraits of Sara and Chris, you think of the two couples standing in for each other. The modern couple, and the primordial couple. It gives their domestic life mythological dimensions, living out a life outside the garden, East of Eden—or maybe in the Garden.

The other allegorical painting is more successful. It shows a dolphin, laid out with roses stuck into slices in its skins. It curls around a collection of items: brass oil candles, gloves and wallets. The title is “Goddess of the Yangtze,” and it refers to the Chinese fresh water dolphin that scientists have recently declared extinct, victim to industrialization and hunting. It was hunted for its oil and leather. You would think that people could at least save an animal important enough to earn the nickname Goddess of the Yangtze, although that just glosses over all the biological richness that we are wiping away through our disability as a species to develop reasonable ways of living with each other and with ecosystems.

The references of this painting strike me as less obscure than the Adam and Eve work. It’s pretty obvious that the focus is here on this animal as a victim; also, NPR did a pretty long story on the Yangtze dolphin recently, so plenty of people will catch the precise reference. In this painting the world of mythology and symbol collides with modern reality, with mournful, disastrous consequences.

The paintings here work as a linked suite: the couple and their domestic life taken pretty straight but also as a location for the eternal cycle of seasons and an echo of mythological couples. Their images subjected to surrealist play which blends into art history and myth, and which comes back again to contemporary life. The paintings are alternately melancholy and playful. Sara has packed a lot into these pretty simple paintings, and the ability to do that is something we have seen from her before.