Machinist's best images still have enigmatic resonance

October 26, 1990|By John Dorsey Sun SO:SUN Art Critic

Leslie Machinist

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 1.

Where: The G. H. Dalsheimer Gallery, 336 N. Charles St.

Call: 727-0866.

The just-opened Leslie Machinist show at Dalsheimer contains 12 new acrylic and conte works on paper plus eight monotypes which are later impressions (sometimes called ghost images) of monotypes shown here last year. It was to contain as well five larger paintings, but they were destroyed by vandalism in her Brooklyn, N.Y. studio last summer.

No doubt the show would have left quite a different impression with the paintings in it. Because of their loss, perhaps because Machinist's work has been seen at Dalsheimer four times in the last four years, perhaps because some of the images are familiar from last year, and because in the new works here there doesn't seem to be any significant departure from what the artist was doing earlier, there's nothing much new to say about this show.

Machinist's black and white (and gray) images at their best are still strong, still possess an ominous sense of mystery, still have a film-noir resonance that heightens the sense of isolation, alienation and often impending danger she achieves. By toning down or making more stark her contrasts, opening or closing her space, emphasizing or de-emphasizing composition, she orchestrates her effects to support the content of her work.

In "Separation" the two people in the foreground who, we sense, have been walking together for a time, separate in a muted, overcast gray cityscape to travel not in opposite or parallel directions but along paths that will create an ever-widening angle. The in-between tones of this work suggest the ambiguous nature of separations -- not so much black and white as murky and indistinct.

In "Bohemian," on the other hand, there is virtually complete contrast between the white of a wedge of pavement and the black that closes in on it. Space is tilted toward us, almost pushed out of the picture, emphasizing the two-dimensionality of the silhouette of an old woman crossing the street. Her silhouette is as insubstantial as her shadow, and both are as insubstantial as the surrounding darkness, yet she is indelibly there -- her figure transforms an otherwise abstract composition. We are reminded that the line between life and death is both thin and absolute.

When Machinist succeeds, as in these and other works here including "Dance" and "Vagrant," she does so with a sureness that makes weaker efforts such as "Revelers" especially inexplicable. And if this were one's first exposure to Machinist, or if the paintings were present, this show would probably appear fresher and stronger overall than it does.

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