Artist makes her mark

November 21, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Corina Briceno is a Venezuelan painter who spends time each year in the Amazon rain forest, where she lives among the Yekuana people, absorbs their ancient culture, and introduces it into her paintings, now showing at Gomez. This is message art in which the art, fortunately, does not become subordinate to the message.

Symbols old and new, both pictorial and calligraphic, overlay and underlay Briceno's paintings of landscapes, trees, thatched-roof houses and their interiors. A canoe paddle and an airplane point out how the ages-old coexists with the contemporary in today's world. Drawings that resemble prehistoric cave paintings -- of monkeys, plants, men, fish -- become symbols of the forms of life that have survived overwhelming change, at least so far.

Calligraphic additions at some times form words, at others squiggles that look like words but are simply marks. They attest to the difficulty of communication, with so many languages in the world, and the necessity for it, if peoples living as close to the earth as those Briceno visits are not to be swept away by the "developed" world.

Briceno's concerns are clearly ecological and humanitarian, and clearly admirable, but that is not the essence of her pictures' DTC appeal. There is no shortage of art about the ecology, and the dangers faced by "primitive" peoples whose territories are invaded and despoiled by the industrialized world. Even though, by threatening others, we threaten ourselves and the future of the world, that doesn't seem to stop us. Nor does all the well-intentioned art on the subject. If Briceno's art were that and that alone it would be of marginal interest.

What makes it memorable is her strength as a painter, and also as a mark-maker. Her paintings, whether of a sweeping mountain vista or a more intimate grouping of trees or a corner of a room, are distinguished by her dynamic brush stroke, her abilities to convey light and the colors of nature, and to endow a picture with the feel of reality even though her works are not strictly realistic. We can't count every leaf, but we have a sense of what it's like to be there, and of the emotion that went into the making of these works.

Briceno's calligraphy has the rare ability, at least in Western art, to be not so much writing as a design element and visual complement to the picture itself. Those works which combine pictorial symbol and calligraphy ("Ancestral Plant," "Ancestral Man" etc.) or landscape and calligraphy ("Text for Forming a Palm,") are better than works in which pictorial symbols somewhat awkwardly overlay the landscape ("Odocha Jidi y Signos," a title no one at Gomez could translate).

Briceno's work here is strong and sometimes moving, but least so when the artist allows the more obvious elements of message to get in the way of her abilities as a painter. It is often well to remember that the more didactic a work of art becomes, the less persuasive it is likely to be.

Paintings by Corina Briceno

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 30

Call: (410) 752-2080

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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