Fear the driving force in Nani Simonis' works

November 19, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

The small exhibit of Nani Simonis paintings at Grimaldis features several works from her recent series "Anima/Animal," in which a human face is invaded by other creatures.

In "Lamb," the head of a lamb appears in ghostly gray across the lower half of the face. In "Salamander," two of the little lizards slither around the periphery of the face. In "Wolves," one wolf looks out from the forehead, another from the place where the mouth should be, but isn't.

We may be witness to the metamorphosis of one being into another, to a rumination on the possibility of reincarnation, or to the appearance in physical form of human qualities associated with various other creatures -- gentleness, rapacity, etc.

But however we choose to interpret them, Simonis' images here and throughout the show are, above all, frightening.

Change and fear are the twin subjects of this expressionist artist's work, often combined. As why shouldn't they be, for we all fear change, and what we fear most is the greatest change we shall undergo -- the one from living to dead.

Sometimes the artist addresses fear directly.

"We are not afraid" is printed boldly across the body of a running figure in the drawing/collage "Are not Afraid." But if the legend is correct, why is the figure running? It's an activity we are more likely to associate with flight and fear than with something positive such as expectation or joy. And as the motto is printed across the face of the figure, the first two letters of "afraid" are cut off, leaving "raid." Could that be a reference to the past of Germany, from which this artist hails?

"Lovers" shows its two figures intertwined, but the unmistakable impression this work leaves is of a couple clinging to one another not out of love but out of fear of something unseen.

In "Sea of Thorns II," the figure crowned and otherwise attacked by thorns (you can't get around the Christian symbolism) expresses not so much fear as anger and loathing as its arm turns into a leg which appears to spout a whole new, smaller figure at its extremity.

Is Christ watching his image metamorphose into something beyond his control as the world distorts his meaning?

Simonis' images are forceful and thought-provoking. At the same time, they aspire to a freshness of meaning and expression they don't quite achieve.

The paths of thought they provoke take us through familiar territory. We may experience a shiver of fear on encountering them, but we soon realize it's a fear we've dealt with, so they have less effect in the long run than we expect of them.

Nani Simonis

What: "Nani Simonis: Paintings, Boxes, and Drawings"

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 30

Call: (410) 539-1080

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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