Six artists take on reality at Rose

Let’s get mythical
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  July 25, 2012

‘JUDITH’ Stephen Burt’s powerful work on Conte crayon on blue prepared paper, 62.5 by 22.5 inches.
The search for meaning can lead to some pretty weird places. Into a minotaur's lair, for instance, or the hollowed insides of a horse. Mythology, born from human imagination and disguised as fact, is a modest term for the incalculably vast atlas of cultural histories and subsequent parsing of essences it represents. In "Mythologies," Rose Contemporary's fantastical summer show, the term is similarly catch-all, as six significant artists retranslate wildly diverse elements of the grand cosmic narrative, finding and creating meaning in places where it was once unthinkable.

An immediate standout among this cabinet of mythic wonders is the recent work of Stephen Burt, which depicts the ageless, endlessly fraught core of human relationships in several illustrated allegories. His seven pieces aren't merely figurative; they explode with physical energy: shapely, classical nudes in various aching tableaux of pain and love, desire and enmity. His medium — richly hand-dyed blue and red paper — sufficiently mutes his subjects' Biblical origins to create space for his own stirring interpretations. "Judith" (strikingly visible from the street window in Conté crayon on blue paper, 62.5 by 22.5 inches) — a tale painted often in Renaissance times — renders the comely Jewish widow wielding the severed head of Holofernes. As Burt's drawing observes, her nudity has a well-traveled history — Judith was once depicted as a chaste virgin and acquired her complicated sexuality through years of iconographic evolution. His Judith is modest feminine, while the rippling muscles in her forefacing thigh assert her rank as a warrior heroine. In ink and gouache, "The Battle of Men and Women" (15 by 29 inches) reprises a Renaissance battle scene in a dizzying skirmish of Herculean figures. It's tremendously violent, yet the picture's red paper mount obviates the call for any bloodshed. The lack of visible wounds on the warring bodies keeps Burt's battle purely in emotional and psychological terrain, where it figures to boil hottest.

If Burt traverses the highways of mythology, Carrie Scanga trudges defiantly down its unmarked trails. Her mixed-media works on paper tell opaque, symbolic narratives through a barebones vernacular, cleaving fantasy from readily coherent meaning. White space is the vessel by which Scanga's works gain their dimensions: The narratively textured "White Board" (11.5 by 11.5 inches) becomes dramatically complex, while "Float" (colored pencil, 14 by 17 inches) depicts a sleeping figure of a girl levitating from a modest bed and into the empty echoes of her room.

Lucinda Bliss directly cites Ovid's Metamorphoses as inspiration for her latest work, and the influence is expertly sublimated and metaphorical. Her "Vulcan's Net" series (four works of watercolor and gouache on paper, 10 by 14 inches) is symbolic and lurid; in each, a delicate harmony of animal knowledge and physical monstrosity lurks behind porous golden coverings, evoking tense scenes both discomfiting and carnally familiar. As in Todd Watts's syntax, Bliss employs the figurations of birds, though while her watercolors feature their intelligence and frailty, Watts enlists their rhythm and madness. His manipulated photographs depict naturalist settings governed by flocks in dense, mathematical sequences, most affectingly in the magnificent end-times triptych "String Too Short to Use" (in dazzling orange frames at 46 by 169.5 inches).

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , mythology, Rose Contemporary, myth,  More more >
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