Artist envisions in-between spaces

The Buddhist middle path is the inspiration

Arts: museums, literature

February 10, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Some artworks manage to tell you more than you want to know, while others sneak up on you and invite you to fill in the blanks.

It is the latter sort that is on view in French artist Francoise Issaly's elegant show at Gallery International.

Issaly, who was in Baltimore last week to attend the show's opening, is a student of Middle Way Buddhism, a form of Buddhism that, as its name suggests, eschews all extremes.

"Inspired by the Buddhist philosophy of the middle path as well as other mystical traditions, I create visual spaces where realities overlap each other," she has written. "I try to express a certain difficulty in ... the in-between, the oscillation, the wavering."

The in-between spaces Issaly creates are formed by groups of paintings arranged in grids like a collage. Each panel represents part of a larger image that extends across the whole grid, but some of the panels seem to be missing, which gives the works an irregular, asymmetrical shape.

In Issaly's Petite Configuration XIII, for example, six square paintings of seemingly abstract forms resolve themselves in a densely layered composite image of plants, flowers and trees. The paintings are arranged in a grid of two parallel groups of three squares each that together form a vertical rectangle.

The two halves of the larger rectangle appear out of sync with each other, however. Rather than line up symmetrically, they are displaced by the height of one square, so that the right side of the rectangle seems to rise above its boundary while the left side sinks below it.

Yet the composite image formed by the squares seems to line up perfectly. The effect is a picture that seems both complete and incomplete. The eye continually wants to "fill in the blanks" by imagining additional squares in the parts of the grid that are "missing."

In principle, Issaly's grids can be square, rectangular or even circular -- the show includes examples of each. What they all have in common is a very noticeable asymmetry or irregularity that the mind subliminally wants to "correct."

So the artist in her understated way draws us into her project and makes the viewer an active participant in the creative process rather than a passive spectator. Yet each work is characterized by great economy of means.

Issaly also creates sculpture, though none are on view in this show. Still, the paintings alone are quite effective as an introduction to the work of this most intriguing artist.

The show runs through Feb. 26. The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-230-0561.

For more art events, see page 36.

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