Prvulovic's steel mills are more engaging than her steel workers

April 28, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The steel mill blast furnace paintings Nadezda Prvulovic showed at George Ciscle's Gallery in 1989 were huge (as much as 22 feet long), exhilarating and powerful. In her current exhibit at Gomez, Prvulovic shows herself still an artist to be reckoned with; but the work is different and much less effective.

The show is divided into two parts, one of blast furnace paintings, though on a much smaller scale than the earlier ones; the other, larger part is a double series of "portraits" of steel workers.

There are two each of 13 portraits, showing how Prvulovic develops the images. First she makes a collage "portrait" by pasting together bits and pieces of pictures she has clipped from magazines: The eyes may be one piece of paper, the forehead another and so on. Then Prvulovic reproduces these portraits in gouache paintings on paper, some of which are made with the addition of a piece of cloth over the area where the nose would be.

Presumably, Prvulovic wants to celebrate perceived characteristics of steel workers -- strength, fortitude, etc. But her use of the collage process seems forced and often fails to result in a unified image. The portrait called "Women," for instance, includes eyes and nose taken from one picture and mouth from another. The mouth grimaces as if in pain or rage, while the eyes look out in a calm, neutral gaze. The larger gouaches so faithfully reproduce the collages that they don't work any better. And the cloth additions are a mistake.

We're on much surer ground with the blast furnace paintings. These smaller versions may not pack the punch of earlier works, but there are compensations. Done in black, white and gray with an occasional bit of color, they deal not so much with the power of an industry as with formal questions such as creation of light and dark, tension between the two-dimensional picture plane and the illusion of three dimensions, ambiguities of space, and action versus stasis. A group of smaller, vertical works in this vein are almost abstract and achieve some of the most pleasing effects of the show.

In the gallery's office space a group of photographs by Joseph Elliott of steel mills at Bethlehem, Pa., has been installed with actual artifacts -- boots, tools, clothes -- from the steel industry. The artifacts are a silly gimmick, but Elliott's black and white photos have considerable mood and force. It would be nice to see more of them.

ART REVIEW

What: Nadezda Prvulovic and Joseph Elliott

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Sundays, through May 23

Call: (410) 752-2080

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