Seen and Unseen

Art by Clare and John Torina, Mary Reed, and Jason Miller and Lauren Coulson.

| August 26, 2010
Pecan Grove by John Tornia
Pecan Grove by John Tornia
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Clare Torina's most powerful paintings in the Dixon Gallery & Gardens' show "In the Blood" trace a woman's journey from subjugation to self-empowerment. In Hysteria — a diptych that references the now-debunked 19th-century medical diagnosis describing sexually frustrated women as diseased and neurotic — a beautiful woman appears on the verge of sobbing or screaming. Her nostrils flare. Her face muscles tense. She is back-dropped by pitch-black shadows and a green so acidic it suggests nausea. The screeching baboon in the painting to her left further heightens our sense of the terror and rage one feels when morally/sexually/ideologically subjected to the will of others.

Torina is master of metaphor as well as paint. The bright-white moisture that pools beneath the woman's lower lip and streams down her chin and neck looks, at once, like milk, semen, and foaming at the mouth. In a world in which sexual and gender attitudes are often as misguided as ever — the artist reminds us — unmitigated rage can turn to madness.

Torina counterpoints Hysteria with Vision Quest, a self-portrait of the artist cloaked in her grandmother's furs and backed by a landscape that brings to mind two masterworks: Thomas Cole's portrait of a summer storm, Oxbow, and da Vinci's enigmatic, atmospheric Mona Lisa. Torina's modifications of the masterworks are telling. In the storm behind the artist, the clouds are darker, the rain more torrential. Torina's five-by-six-foot torso not only dominates the surface of the painting like the figure in Mona Lisa, it also towers above the viewer. Her full-red lips appear ready to devour or engage us in passionate conversation as she weathers life's storms, claims her own space, and explores her own psyche, including its darkest, most primal passages. 

Clare's father, John Torina, takes a different but equally powerful path to "see" more clearly. Instead of searching the psyche, John Torina paints plein air in all seasons, all kinds of weather, at all times of the day. His large, windblown sunsets record thousands of variations of shape, hue, and light. His dark, wet fields reflect the panoramic dances playing out in the skies above. 

Look close. With one stroke of a brush loaded with several pigments, Torina nails the bright, nearly white chartreuse light that streaks across the thick carpet of grass in Pecan Grove. Torina's observations are so acute, his technique so accomplished — this body of work elicits synesthetic responses — we feel as well as see the lush, warm grass in Pecan Grove and the crystalline cold surface of the frozen pond that mirrors a gray-blue winter sky in Sun and Ice.

In Nightfall, Torina convincingly captures the copper-red scattering of light as the sun drops below the horizon. This waning of energy is so seamless, we witness what could be the sun or a soul slipping from seen to unseen worlds as Torina takes us from spring to winter, from first to last light.

Through September 26th at the Dixon

You'll find another powerful vision quest in Mary Reed's Magic Carpet in David Perry Smith Gallery's "Summer Group Exhibition." In Reed's mixed-media painting, a woman with luminously red hair wearing an equally iridescent dress sits on a huge polka-dotted quilt that fills most of the work. Running throughout the oversized, overstuffed Magic Carpet are ribbons the color of iron-rich soil. The woman's face turns away from the viewer toward a swatch of umber fabric at top left that looks like a darkened window. Reed's iconic redhead is the artist, is the viewer, is every woman (or man) whose passions simmer, whose full and fertile imagination is ready to soar.

Through August 31st at David Perry Smith

By combining poems of love and transcendence with digital images of a 19th-century maximum security prison, Jason Miller and Lauren Coulson have created "Poetic Visions," a body of work at Material gallery that is at once spiritual and unnervingly personal.

The only still-intact objects in the crumbling prison cells are metal bed frames that stand as metaphor for our deepest passions and dreams. The beds are empty, the prisoners long dead, but we can still hear their emotions in Miller's poems.

Miller and Coulson's most powerful collaboration, Found My Love, reminds us that the imagination is much harder to imprison than the body. A long, arched hallway is blurred almost to abstraction by sunshine pouring through skylights on the ceiling. Across the center of the image Miller writes, "Found my love on the riverbed/Staring up through the flowing glass/into the clouds of dreams that passed." This work serves as the show's physical and spiritual climax as Coulson's luminous photos of rot and Miller's surreal poetry blur all boundaries and sound the clarion call: These tombs are about to open.

Through August 28th at Material

Vision Quest by Clare Torina
Vision Quest by Clare Torina
At Material: Hold Me Beauty, by Jason Miller and Lauren Coulson
At Material: Hold Me Beauty, by Jason Miller and Lauren Coulson

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