Scheinman's art is a colorful narrative

Art Critic

September 21, 1993|By John Dorsey

The paintings of Nancy Scheinman have been compared to Persian miniatures and medieval manuscript illuminations, and it's easy to see why: their colorful, patterned backgrounds; their decorated borders; their profusion of flora and fauna; their ambiguities of time and space, with inclusions of what appear to be different events from the same story in one picture.

All these and more make them seem like relics of the long ago, but Scheinman's often freely gestural brush stroke betrays their modern origin. And thank goodness for that -- nothing is more deadening to art than slavishly copying the manner of the past. In Scheinman's work there are reminders of the past, but they are fortunately put into the service of her own original sensibility.

These colorful and crowded works -- created partly out of painting, partly out of drawing, partly out of collage -- are fragments of stories that relate to the artist's life, and they invite interpretation. But in her artist's statement Scheinman wisely refrains from challenging the viewer to try to crack the code, so to speak, and discover what's going on in her life. No, she says that viewers should "interpret and reinvent the narrative for themselves"; after all, if this is good art it will communicate something more general than the details of a single life.

And it does. These pictures are not all equally outgoing, but it's fun to stand in front of them and let a story come to you. Scheinman's world is a garden, but it usually contains a structure of some sort, and both are apt to be peopled with figures who seem to relate to one another and at times to be aspects of the same person.

In "Behind You One Star Is Missing," the woman whose arms grow into trees appears to be the free spirit in us, at one with nature, while the one who hangs out the wash is the

practical, everyday side of us. Or the second of these figures may be the life we get trapped into while the first is the life we would like to have.

In "The Left Behind," a woman who appears to be held back by another watches a couple presumably enjoying their togetherness. This may have to do with the tyranny of family ties, or on the other hand -- the very other hand -- it may be talking about responsibility vs. selfishness.

Indeed many of Scheinman's works possess dual and conflicting possibilities. Is she celebrating freedom or condemning license, bewailing the drudgery of obligation or extolling the virtue of duty? And that's part of their point -- the way you interpret them reveals something about you to yourself.

But it is well not to spend all your time "reading" these works, if that results in overlooking their purely visual beauty. That's something else they have in common with medieval illumination -- it's too easy to get so immersed in iconography that one misses beauty. Relax at some point and let the joys of Scheinman's color and pattern and composition wash over you. Notice the blues and greens and golds of "Night Entangled Trees," for instance -- the tree in the center is a shimmering of green reminiscent of an olive tree in the wind.


* What: Nancy Scheinman paintings

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Oct. 16

Call: (410) 752-2080

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