Artist documents her dual identity

Exhibit: Dhruvi Acharya's paintings capture her life in both India and the United States.

January 18, 2001|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

In the luminous paintings of 29-year-old Indian artist Dhruvi Acharya, cartoon-like thought bubbles rise from the heads of people and streams of arrows issue from their mouths.

These graphic references to the processes of speech and communication, which in Acharya's art are a source of mystery as well as of clarity in human interaction, seem as much the subject of the artist's paintings as the enchantingly drawn figures and objects they contain.

Acharya's work, at the Gomez Gallery through Feb. 3, is a visual and emotional diary of her dual life in India and the United States, an allegorical arena in which ancient tradition confronts contemporary consumer society.

The result is an art composed of equal parts myth and pop culture, sacred and secular icons through which all the contradictions that being an Indian-American implies are given lyrical, symbolic expression through line, color and pattern on the painted surface.

"Dharamsala," for example, is a large, 6-foot-square painting that recalls a recent visit by the artist to India during which she heard a talk given by the Dalai Lama.

The central figure is a woman shown floating above a glowing cloud that appears full of stylized eyes. Below, drops of rain or tears seem to descend. Interestingly, the eyes of the female itself have no pupils. Her shirt is also covered with eye motifs, and she appears to be holding papers or books of some sort in her left hand, while her right hand grasps a pen or pencil.

Acharya has said that among her sources of inspiration are Indian miniature painting, contemporary comic books and American abstract-expressionist painting of the 1950s. She uses thin layers of color to reflect moods, express feelings and to depict the layering of memories that constitute our experience of present and past.

"Through my work I continue to learn about myself, and this enables me to gain a deeper understanding of others," she says.

"I hope that the specifics of the personal stories and meaning of each of my images will become unimportant when viewed, and all that is felt and remembered is the universality of the human experience."

Gomez Gallery is at 3600 Clipper Mill Road. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 410-662-9510.

Alienation exhibit

Barbara Pollack is a New York photographer and art market journalist who uses a cheap Polaroid camera, which she deliberately abuses in various ways to produce pictures that are intentionally defective as documents yet possess an eerie beauty as images.

Pollack's photographs, at Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres in Lutherville through Feb. 1, seem to me a metaphor for our media-engulfed society, in which images speak with a seductive intensity that nevertheless contributes precious little clarity to our understanding.

These pictures, almost all in the form of portrait busts, have been interpreted as emblematic of modern alienation. Most of the photographs began as snapshots of friends and family, the people we know best.

Yet we cannot really see anything about the people Pollack depicts because their features have been blurred beyond recognition.

This suggests that our knowledge of others, even those closest to us, is severely circumscribed; the camera denies them the clarity that would distinguish them as individuals. This impression is heightened by the materials the artist uses. Rather than print her pictures on conventional photographic paper, Pollack has her photos laminated on rigid Plexiglas sheets. The relative durability of this material suggests that our inability to see others is a permanent rather than a temporary condition, recalling the theme of Ralph Ellison's great novel "The Invisible Man."

"I am an invisible man," says Ellison's hero. "No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

Pollack's pictures present her intimates as Ellisonian spooks and Hollywood ectoplasms - spectral human presences whom even those closest to them refuse to see, and who might well claim, as did Ellison's unhappy protagonist in the conclusion of the book: "Who knows but that on the lower frequencies, I speak for you as well?"

Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres is in Greenspring Station, 2630 W. Joppa Road in Lutherville. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Call 410-337-ARTS.

Surrealist by chance

It is said that though Einstein made major contributions to the development of modern quantum theory, till the end of his days the great physicist refused to accept the implications of its laws.

"God does not play dice with the universe," he replied famously to the idea that, on the smallest scale, the behavior of matter and energy are completely governed by chance.

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