The art of the living and dying city

June 08, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The romance, the mystery, the decadence of the city -- all these are captured in Soledad Salame's fine mixed-media works on paper at Gomez Gallery. She has a sense of the centuries of layered life that inhabit our buildings, of the tales that doors and stairs and windows might tell if they could.

Looking at her fragmented images, put together out of bits and pieces of buildings, we feel we can almost grasp a story line -- and would, if we could just sort all this stuff out and put it together the right way. But it's better not to be able to -- it's better to keep seeking than to find.

Using various media including watercolor, drawing and pieces of etchings cut up and collaged onto her surfaces, Salame creates images that pull us into their complicated spaces and keep us roaming around in them. In "Cityscape I" light alternates with dark, creating passages of space to move into. Color flows across part of the surface like a veil descending, creating eagerness and fear -- we want to enter the work before the veil falls completely, but what if we can't get out again?

In "Three Arches" and elsewhere, parts of stairs may appear incongruously right inside half-open windows, or tilted at odd angles. In "Passage" there are actually two passages, one leading to a cross and the other down a long hallway that looks easier to get to but less promising.

Certain elements keep reappearing from work to work like bits of memory popping up in unexpected places -- a jug or vase, a newel post, a section of architectural vaulting. They tie these works together, as if to say that in a way we're seeing the same thing from different points of view.

And so we are. On one level Salame's works are about color, light, space and the ambiguities they can create. On another level they're about the often confusing, sometimes frightening, possibly exhilarating experience of living in a city that is itself a living thing -- parts of it dying, parts of it being reborn, parts of it falling down, parts of it being built and rebuilt. On still another level these works are about memory and how it distorts and reconfigures experience.

They're about so many things because Salame knows how to suggest, visually, without being too specific, leaving her images open to the viewer's imagination. Her most ambitious and least successful work here is the installation "Garden of the Sacred Light," in which she combines a painting on paper with actual plants. In part, this doesn't work because its introduction of the actual reduces the mystery and the possibilities. In part it's because Salame seems more at home with images of the built city than of a garden. And perhaps in part it's simply because this is a departure for Salame and needs development.

But that's only one work. Elsewhere, there's much to be appreciated in this strong show.


What: "Soledad Salame: Paintings and Installations"

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, through July 2

$ Call: (410) 752-2080

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