Review: Kovac's ''Comfortable Distance'; Kurt's ''Sex Objects''

Covered up, stripped down
By GREG COOK  |  June 21, 2011

DUAL MEANING Kovac’s Semi Self-Portrait As a Ski Mask.
In Delia Kovac's painting Semi Self-Portrait As a Ski Mask, the eyes stare out of the cartooned mask doleful and maybe a bit bonkers, while the mouth hole is empty. The ski mask is often the uniform of aggression that prefers to remain anonymous — muggers, stick-up men, covert operators, insurgent fighters, death squads. Guys, mostly.

Kovac writes that the series of ski-masked heads in her exhibit "Comfortable Distance" at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through July 16) spring from her "cold Midwestern youth" and thoughts about "contemporary unease regarding the social face of women." So for her, the paintings — with their sleepy eyes or freaked-out bug eyes and teeth — seem to be about female beauty. But I keep thinking about what it means for women to put on the mask usually associated with male aggression. Also here is a pair of giant ski masks that Kovac has knit. They're perhaps twice the size of normal, which turns them buffoonish, undercutting what might be menace.

Kovac's technique is driven by a love of stylized pattern — painting lots of dots or dashes or rings to indicate knit texture. And this is part of the charm of pencil drawings like Holding Pattern, which seems to depict a pair of guinea pigs or lemmings facing each other, belly to belly, with their long tongues stretched out and about to touch. It's an alluringly weird, tender gesture, made more charming by Kovac's cartoony line and the fact that she has lovingly drawn each little strand of fur.

Elsewhere this love of expression is the main focus of pencil-and-ink drawings like Loss + Fury, in which a bundle of curved marks add up to a sort of cloud of hair.

Her Social Structures ink drawings are a suite of studies of simplified, stylized brick fortress walls. Kovac says their inspiration came from Renaissance paintings of ideal cities, 19th- and 20th-century "feminist utopian narratives," and the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. As drawings, they're again animated by the many different ways to caricature patterns of bricks. They depict castle walls or city walls, all empty inside, perhaps abandoned and beginning to be reclaimed by nature. As in many of her drawings and paintings, Kovac somehow imbues these charming, somewhat offhand renderings with a psychological charge. They read like Jungian symbols embodying twin feelings of imprisonment and safety.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER Drawings by Michael Kurt.
Michael Kurt presents pencil drawings of hunky nude gay men in his exhibit "Sex Objects" at the Q-30 pop-up gallery he organized at 65 Eddy Street, Providence (through June 30). The show's title responds to an exhibit of his drawings at AS220 in 2008. He thought those artworks were pretty straightforward academic figure studies, but some viewers saw them as sexually charged. "So I decided I would just go with that," Kurt says.

In these beefcake drawings, Marcus pulls down the last scrap of clothes he has on: his Calvin Klein briefs. Kevin sits in a room with his shirt pulled over his shoulders, a belt around his waist, and otherwise nude. He holds his penis in his hand and looks out at the viewer with a stare that is both hard and seductively sleepy-eyed. Todd is portrayed topless from head to pecs, with delicate features and big dark eyes. Matthew stands naked outside on a porch.

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