The desire to make a mark, to communicate, is one of humankind's most compelling urges. And the making of marks in a creative way -- the making of art (in the broadest sense of the word) -- is human beings' most profound way of making sense of their universe. The paintings of Susanne McDougall Carmack, at Gomez, encompass both of those concepts.
The works are simple and complex, and they look both pre-alphabetical and beyond the viewer's level of sophistication. Generally, they contain only a few marks and maybe the indication of some living thing on a one- or two-color background.
On one level, these paintings look like groping, unsuccessful attempts to make some sort of coherent statement. On the other hand, they could be clues to mysteries of the universe in a combined visual and verbal language that we are not yet able to comprehend.
"Moon Culminations" places the vague imprint of a shell in the center of a red square with a few black, calligraphic marks near the bottom of the paper. Given the title, we cannot be sure whether the shell (of a sea creature, of course) was found upon the shore, making the act of finding it the culmination of the moon's pull upon the tides, or whether there is some vaster meaning, placing the moon, the shell and everything in between in a cycle of life and death so immense it embraces the whole universe.
Certainly in "Sun," the sun as the giver of life on Earth, suggested by the bright yellow of the painting's background, makes possible all growing things, including the yellow-green leaf pictured in the center of this work.
The handsome brown, gray and white painting "Night Rain" has a surface covered with rows of writing, falling down the canvas like rain. But we can't make out what the writing says. The shapes are not like letters that we're familiar with, and we're left to wonder if they're an attempt to form letters of our alphabet or if they're a fully formed kind of writing we just don't understand.
In a number of the works here, including "Exposed on the Cliffs of the Heart," we're given intimations of word-like forms partly obscured by veils of color, through which we sense the words may become clearer at any moment. But of course, they don't. Here, as elsewhere, Carmack suggests both halves of the difficulty of communication: the difficulty of expressing exactly what you mean and the difficulty of understanding what the other person expresses. That she does so in works that are visually elegant as well as full of implication makes this art doubly rewarding.
This month, the gallery also shows the work of Gabriela Morawetz. In both her photographic images on slate and her paintings, Morawetz deals with the human figure, often shown in a fetus-like position and sometimes inside a cocoon-like shape that might represent a womb. In their suggestion of something in the process of becoming fully formed, these represent an apt complement to Carmack's pregnant work.
What: Suzanne McDougall Carmack, paintings; Gabriela Morawetz, paintings and photography
Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 3
Pub Date: 7/09/97