Wednesday, November 4, 2009

REVIEW: Barbara Pearlman at Gallery-in-the-Field

By Janet Van Fleet

This powerful exhibit, installed in the beautifully-designed space at Gallery-in-the-Field, is a pantheon of primitive, dark, visionary figures. The eight sculptures are placed on fairly high pedestals, enhancing the sense of them as monumental works. Additional elements in the exhibit include three large drawings and four standing lamps.

Stylistically, the work calls to mind Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet. The complex, variegated black surfaces bear the marks of fingers vigorously modeling, gouging holes, and slapping on more clay. There is great urgency, even violence in this work, but also an invigorating honesty in representing naked truths about human beings’ anger, vanity, and silliness.

Dominating the exhibit at its center is Woman and Child, her great lumpy form massive as the Venus of Willendorf on the bottom, then rippling away into rough abstractions and angles on the top. This huge black-painted mother cradles a child whose face is like an African mask in her right arm, while another child (whose gesture and face seems almost a direct quote from Picasso’s Guernica) hangs at her left, its hollow-eyed, screaming face and descending arm a bloody red.

Pendulous body parts – hands, breasts, scrota, and ears – are emphasized in these works, dangling (the penis/arm of Blue Man, arms and heads elsewhere), poking out at sharp angles (the breasts of Blue Woman and Here I Am), or floating (the genitals in Silent Applause, the breasts of Woman 2).

And there are cavities too, gouged in unexpected places: The massive buttocks of Woman 2 have holes scooped out of the center of each cheek, as though the flesh has parted in rising. Seeking (the only horizontal – one can’t say reclining – figure) rests on one fisted hand, with the other cocked back, possibly ready to hurl a stone. The back end of the figure has a rough bowl-like depression, perhaps designed to hold ammunition. Looking at this piece from directly behind, one sees a skull with poked-out eyes.

The four lamps in the exhibit are about human-sized, and have that thin, attenuated look of Giacometti’s standing figures, with big shades/heads at the top. The artist, a slender, warm person herself (seen at left) told a story at the reception about having bought a plaster Giacometti lamp many years ago for under $400!

If any criticism could be offered about this impressive exhibit, it might be that the three big drawings mounted on a side wall detract a bit. While one can understand the desire to represent the history and range of the artist’s work, the power of the sculptures is what really packs the punch.

The Art of Barbara Pearlman will be on exhibit through January 3, 2010. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 PM and by appointment. The gallery is located at 685 Arnold District Road in Brandon.