Allegorical expressions

Lydia Stein's “Love Songs, Hobos & Other Spirits”
By GREG COOK  |  September 9, 2009


RAW FEELINGS Stein's Love Song

Horses break loose from carnival carousels and run free, a horse-headed naked woman cuddles a rabbit as blue birds circle, and an escaped carousel horse visits the grave of a flower in Providence artist Lydia Stein's exhibit "Love Songs, Hobos & Other Spirits" at AS220's Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through September 26). The paintings and relief prints seem to be allegories of imprisonment, love, desperation, escape, craving solace, and peace.

Stein has painted murals in her hometown of Worcester, performed with Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theater in the early 2000s, moved to Providence to study at Brown, helped organize the Honk! radical marching band festivals around Boston, and performed in marching bands there and in Providence. She recently worked with the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation's "HousEARt" project, which invites artists to enliven vacant foreclosed Providence housing before it transforms the structures into affordable rentals. Stein rounded up neighbors to help her paint horses breaking free from a carousel and a horse-headed naked lady with a hole in her chest where her heart should be across the front and side of a house at 16 Bernon Street. An opening party there is on September 15 from 4:30 to 6 pm.

Stein offers lots of folksy charm, though her renderings can at times be awkward and sour. Her imagery features permutations of a core group of symbols: a horse-headed naked woman (a seeming self-portrait), farm animals, a lion laying down with a lamb (longstanding symbol of peace that derives from a misquotation of the Bible), and carousel horses breaking free from their carousel (another seeming self-portrait). The Rosetta Stone for the show is Stein's rough-hewn, relief-print book The Love Song of the Hobo & the Carousel Whore. A lonely bird-child left its "broken home," "loved many women," and "still dreamed of a place where he belonged." The "Carousel Whore," a horse, "never got anywhere," "Many men rode her./Sometimes she enjoyed it." So she left the carnival for a cold world. She found the bird-guy, they sang to each other from a safe distance. "Their love was tender and good." He built a nest, but she feared she'd just "trade one prison for another," so she left. He offered tea, but she remained outside alone.

The specifics may be hidden, but the sad allegory of heartbreak, yearning for companionship, and isolating psychological wounds is bluntly clear. The feelings are so raw that it may make you cringe.


READY FOR TAKEOFF Martin's Rocketdrill.

The 11-artist "Annual Faculty Exhibition" at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through September 23) is hit or miss. Hits include Lisa Russell's three densely painted abstractions. Her sense for texture, narrow harmonies of color (gray to white, green to mocha), and rhythm of marks all contribute to a tense mood. Her compositions begin with long, wide, open brush and knife strokes, but then tighten somewhere off-center, with lots of short, narrow strokes that seem to buzz with pent-up energy.

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