Menace, mystery, 'Men in Suits,' more at Resurgam

January 01, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Ruth Pettus, in the current two-person exhibit at Resurgam Gallery, shows a group of variations on her "Men in Suits" theme, and the results are mixed. That phrase usually carries a negative connotation, but in this case I mean genuinely mixed.

Much of what gives Pettus' work its considerable interest continues here: the expressionist surfaces, with their hard gestural strokes that are like jabs with a knife; the somber colors, shot with highlights, that help establish an ominous atmosphere; the sense of confinement, either in a room or in a landscape with a horizon that's either nonexistent or very high, so that escape seems impossible; and the men, figures only partly defined or distinguished from the backgrounds from which they emerge.

There are differences, though. Previously, Pettus' men appeared be figures of power, mystery and menace, and one could at least read into her canvases statements about male-dominated society as well as male-dominated personal relationships. Two of the largest paintings here are titled "Grief" and in each there is the image of two men embracing. There is some sense of menace here, but it comes from outside the men and envelops them; the figures that we see are sympathetic, and as a result the image is not as unified and the overall effect is weaker -- although purely as paint on canvas they're as strong as ever.

The seven paintings in another series, called "Flight," reveal a group of what looks like three men forming a circle in the center of the landscape. The meaning here is enigmatic, for at times there appears to be a fourth figure in the center, whom the other three may be helping to escape, or apprehending, or torturing. From these works emanates a sense of desperation, hopelessness, futility. These may have a societal reference, but there is also a psychological level to them, and they constitute the most successful works in the show -- except for the size of most of them. All but two are smaller works on paper, and Pettus has the most impact when she works big.

She shares the show with Wendy Roberts, whose abstractions indicate that she is reaching for something apparently -- at least partly -- beyond her grasp. Examined up close, the paintings in the series "Das Lied Von Der Erde" possess certain qualities in the abstract that can be related to landscape -- light; colors of earth, sky, sunset; suggestions of horizon; a sense of movement. In her other series here, a group of paintings united by the title "Tred Avon," Roberts experiments with a kind of dualism in which the picture can be seen both as geometric abstraction and as landscape. But Roberts' pictures do not awake sufficient response, either as entities or in terms of their elements (color, composition, surface). Roberts has talent and should build on what she has done here.

Art exhibit

Who: Ruth Pettus and Wendy Roberts.

Where: Resurgam Gallery, 910 S. Charles St.

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Through Jan. 16.

Call: (410) 962-0513.

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