Betrayed by gentle nature Art review: Soledad Salame found beauty in city's ugly side. Landscapes are less dynamic.

March 27, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Two years ago, Soledad Salame showed a group of paintings at Gomez that captured a lot of what it's like to live in the city -- the confusing, frightening and exciting possibilities of an urban environment that's always growing and dying, falling down and being built.

Her current Gomez show for the most part takes us out of the city and into nature; and you would think, since fields and trees and water are constantly changing, that nature would provide if anything more fertile ground for her talents than the city.

But it doesn't. These landscape pictures lack the gutsy dynamic and the layering of effect that Salame's more architectural works had -- and still have, judging by a couple of examples in this show.

The trouble with these landscapes may lie, in part, in the fact that nature is visually gentler and prettier than the urban environment. Although Salame here and there tries to get some drama into these works by introducing wind or signs of storm, she's not as good at creating beauty out of prettiness as she is at creating beauty out of ugliness. She can take a dilapidated looking old piece of architecture, as in "Open Gate," and build it into a monument of dignified decrepitude that speaks of the passing grandeur of the city -- and by extension of the passing grandeur of dreams in the face of life's disillusionments. And it speaks as well of how in not despairing there is a triumph of sorts. Salame's landscapes lack a lot of the human resonance of her urban pictures. And then, too, architecture offers a strength of given composition that one misses in the landscapes.

Salame is good, and there's much to admire in these works. There's the way she creates light; the way she effectively mixes media including extraneous materials such as dirt or wire; the way she contrasts lightness and heaviness, as by juxtaposing delicate drawing with strong color; the way she can create pTC ambiguities of space and scale to keep us not quite sure where we are in relation to the scene. Salame's landscapes are rewarding pictures; they're just not as rewarding as her architectural pictures such as "Open Door" and the ambitious but not altogether successful "Crossing the Bridge."

The latter's succession of arches enclosing deeply penetrating, artificially scaled spaces sets up a high-pitched drama that the upper part of the painting doesn't quite sustain. But there's a largeness of concept here that speaks of Salame's vision at its best.

Gomez also features a group of Tammra Sigler's monoprints filled with small, quirky markings that the artist says relate to markings of ancient cultures. You might think, then, that they would speak to us out of some deep cultural common ground. But instead they suggest that the artist is communicating primarily with herself just now. The best of these is the largest, "Play Zone Crossing II." With its suggestions of figures, its intricacy of composition, its color variety and its hints of jumpy movement, it's the one the others seem to want to be. If Sigler's building on this work, it may be interesting to see where she goes.

Art Gomez

What: Paintings by Soledad Salame and monotypes by Tammra Sigler

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays, through April 20

Call: (410) 752-2080

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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