Women's paintings, photos are studies in aloneness No signs of reaching out to others

August 10, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Whoever had the idea for "Women Image Women" at the Baltimore Life Gallery deserves a round of applause. The theme is timely and guest curator Diana Marta has put together a show with a high percentage of worthwhile art that leaves a surprising overall impression.

One usually hears that women are more often the connectors, the communicators, the people who reach out, while men tend to be more reserved, less expressive and communicative. But judging by the images in this show, women feel themselves to be very much alone in the world.

So many of these works depict women alone either physically or symbolically that it seems the women behind them must share a feeling of essential solitude. That need not be a negative feeling. It may reflect a sense of liberation from the traditional giving of oneself to others (as mother, wife, friend), a freeness to be who one is and explore one's inner self. Nevertheless, whether it's Judy Herrmann's "Self Portrait" and "Nora," or Lisa Lazar's "MakeUp Drawing" or Leah Taylor's "Praise His Name" or Oletha DeVane's "Marketplace" or Susan Lowe's "Woman with a Handmirror" or Joan Erbe's "Joan's Home," the single figure is everywhere.

And even when the figure is not alone, we often get little or no sense of community. In Bonnie Fous Reynolds' "Of Once We Were" there is instead a sense of a union being lost; in Chevelle Moore's "I'll Take Your Man" there is competition; in Lisa Lazar's "Annunciation" there is separateness and apparent suspicion; in Cathy Leaycraft's "Sorceress of the Dune" the child is not alone but seems unaware of another presence.

It's impossible to know whether the state of separation visible here reflects a certain aspect of woman's consciousness, or whether it reflects an aspect of universal human consciousness -- we are all ultimately alone, after all -- or whether it is simply an accident of this show.

As for individual works, the ones that impress most are, unsurprisingly, by artists familiar to local gallery-goers. Moore's work in the past has dealt with man as a threat to woman; in "I'll Take Your Man" she turns the tables and has two women competing for a man. Connie Imboden's photographs of women in water are becoming ever more abstract, and impressively so; here, perhaps to emphasize form over content, she has given them numerical titles -- "#4440," "#4511," etc. -- which are completely without implication.

Mary Skeen's photographs here as elsewhere combine beauty and mystery, a sense that meaning is just out of reach, as in a dream; this is particularly true of "I've Always Dreamt of Giving This to You." In "Marketplace" Oletha DeVane's shrouded figure endows the image with a sense not so much of mystery as of command. Joan Erbe's "Joan's Home" is characteristic in its use of high color but less characteristic in bordering on cuteness; Erbe's usually more trenchant than this.

Diane Paroda's name is not familiar to this reviewer, but her threesmall oils on paper are intriguing. Also number-titled -- "#18," "#42," "#41" -- these are too abstract to reveal easily how they relate specifically to women, but they might be still lifes of objects used by women, or they might have sexual overtones, or both. In their composition, their moody color and their mixing of almost identifiable shapes they invite and reward the viewer's interest.

ART REVIEW

What: "Women Image Women"

Where: The Baltimore Life Gallery, 10075 Red Run Blvd., Owings Mills

When: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to noon Fridays, through Sept. 30

Call: (410) 581-6600

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