Past meets the present perfectly in 'Riddles' exhibit at Goucher

January 26, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The exhibit of Michelle La Perriere's accomplished paintings and drawings, now at Goucher, deals with how memory intrudes upon and mingles with the present. The past and present are combined in the same image in layered fashion, so that the viewer sees both at the same time. This may sound like gimmickry, but in La Perriere's hands it not only works, it communicates. You not only enjoy her paintings, they activate your own memory.

One of the best of these is "Nimbus," a painting in which the protagonist (unseen, as usual) appears l,7p,5l to be driving along a road -- we see a road stretching away at the top of the picture -- when her mind becomes occupied with a scene of landscape, water, a pair of overalls, a duck. It has something to do with hunting, that much we know, and anyone who has ever been hunting will immediately recall the experience on seeing this picture. La Perriere puts the two parts of her image together so well that the whole thing feels completely natural, not forced, and with this kind of work, that's a real feat.

In "Desire to Breathe," what appears to be a cylindrical lamp has a scene on it of a forest fire with a deer in the foreground, and this is reflected on the blank screen of the television set on which sits a droop ing plant. Cups rest on the table and an ashtray full of cigarettes floats on the left side of the image. Clearly the ashtray's a memory, and it has triggered thoughts about the consequences of smoking -- forest fires, droopy plants, breathing problems whether you're the smoker or the person living with a smoker.

This is not just a memory work; it has a point to make, though not in a polemical way. But it's also a memory work that will work on your memory as well, at least if you've ever seen the movie "Bambi."

I hadn't seen it for more than 40 years, but this painting brought its forest fire scene back like a flash.

Sometimes you're not quite sure what's past and what's present in these works, but that's not a flaw, just the opposite: the layer of ambiguity gives the work greater depth. In the drawing "Circuity," a child playing with a ball and a sleeping dog occupy the same space with a repeated image of a couple kissing. Is this a flash forward, to what the child will do later in life? Or has the child seen the kissing couple, a sight it cannot put out of mind? And if so, why -- was this an illicit kiss? Or is one of the kissing couple having a childhood memory?

These are expertly done, thought-provoking works. It's always a pleasure to experience works by an artist who not only knows what she wants to do but knows exactly how to do it. Not all 21 are on the same high level; some, such as "Tap Dance Dreaming," are less thoroughly realized than others. But when La Perriere hits it, it stays hit.


What: "Tap Dance Dreaming and Other Riddles"

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and on evenings and weekends when events are scheduled in Kraushaar Auditorium; through March 3

Call: (410) 337-6333

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