Shared insights: Artists explore self and others

March 22, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The works of Michelle La Perriere and Ruth Pettus are complementary in exhilarating, thought-provoking ways. The two artists' concerns play off of one another, and Mary Jo Gordon's idea of showing them together at her Galerie Francoise was a happy one.

La Perriere's drawings deal with the inner mind, the effort to probe memory and the unconscious for the secrets buried deep within ourselves. As in dreams, figures and objects emerge from the gray gloom of her obsessively worked surfaces like bits and pieces of memory trying to unlock the door to something deeper and more complete.

In "Soliloquy," what appears to be the figure of a girl chases a duck-faced doll wearing a clown's floppy hat. It reminds you of those dreams in which you know you're pursuing something without ever really knowing what it is. "Crossing" is ostensibly a picture of a fountain supported by figural sculptures. But one of the sculptures doesn't match the other; it has a face that's obviously some real person from the past. It's the kind of metamorphosis that happens in dreams, and sometimes in daydreams, too, when disparate images flow together and we know there must be some reason why but don't know what it is.

If La Perriere's works deal with the difficulties of unlocking the mysteries of one's own mind, Pettus' deal with the difficulties of knowing what's going on in others' minds. There's a clue to this difference in the fact that La Perriere is a woman and most of the figures in her works are female (the same), while Pettus is a woman and all of the figures in her works are male (the other).

Pettus' men, either singly or in groups, inhabit indistinct spaces, created out of blurry paint, which may be interior or exterior spaces but from which there is no escape. No doors, no windows, no distant vistas into which we can flee if we don't like the proximity of these figures, with their equally indistinct faces that can't be probed. They stand for the others in our lives, those who are close to us but whom we can never fully know.

These men often seem menacing, but that may be what the viewer projects onto them as much as what the artist puts there, since our view of others is as colored by our own past as it is by the reality of the others. In "Man Wearing a Red Tie," the tie can look like a slash of blood, but it can as easily be just a tie. The man in "Man With Crossed Arms" can seem hostile, or just ruminative.

One can make other comparisons between these two artists, such as their success at creating light -- in Pettus' case, sometimes dazzling light. In fact, when you're in this exhibit, it seems that each artist is feeding you insights into the other. That doesn't often happen, and when it does, congratulations are in order all around.

GALERIE FRANCOISE

What: Art by Ruth Pettus and Michelle La Perriere

Where: Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through March 29

Call: (410) 337-2787

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