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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Pictorial Paranoia

Art Review

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No wonder paranoids flourish,” says Nicholas Frank in his curatorial statement for “The Flight of Fake Tears,” a new exhibit at Inova/Kenilworth Gallery. He describes the void, the blank page, the unaccountable matter ingrained in our very existence, as the seat of a primal anxiety. Whether its through a tantalizing series of what-ifs or a feverish web of conspiracies, the work of at least two of the artists in the exhibit examines the means by which we repel the paralyzing uncertainty underlying human endeavor.

In The Trouble With People You Don’t Know, Deb Sokolow constructs an imaginary persona whose decisions the viewer has the power to direct. Pinned to the wall are a series of hastily scribbled drawings and notes, resembling an obsessive crime investigator’s cache of maps and photos, and outlining the range of possibilities open to this fictional character.

We read the pros and cons of each, commentary riddled with irony and selfdoubt, as we grope along the walls to divine the outcome of our choices. Dominic McGill’s Orchestra of Fear consists of a tent inscribed with livid headlines, epithets and irreverent caricatures. They look like the obsessive scrawlings of a madman, a media harlot and a keen social critic all rolled into one. Most unsettling is its air of disrepute. It resembles the kind of ominous abode that fairy-tale protagonists are cautioned to avoid but to which they’re irresistibly drawn. There’s even a drawing of a wolf in sheep’s clothing—or rather scout’s clothing—to strengthen this impression.

Yet Sokolow and McGill both place a curious distance between themselves and the persona around whom their work revolves. It’s not Sokolow’s thoughts we’re sharing in her piece, but those of a stranger racked by doubts and hopes which are no less crippling for being rather ordinary. The tent McGill constructs belongs not to him but to an imaginary recluse dwelling on the social periphery, out of sight but not out of mind.

Any creative act proposes a direct challenge to infernal and terrifying blankness. That aside, it’s still difficult to ascertain exactly how the work of Amy Ruffo and Robyn O’Neil corresponds with this idea of pictorial paranoia .

Ruffo’ s spare-looking drawings, with the almost sacred significance they place on the precise weight and quality of pencil lines, and O’Neil’s painfully detailed landscapes are self-contained pieces that seem utterly removed from McGill and Sokolow’s fretful meanderings. Perhaps the inclusion of Claire Pentecost’s work, which somewhat straddles both approaches, is an attempt to lend coherence to the exhibit. She draws on the walls of her studio, then photographs her work. The drawings represent a spontaneous act, mapping out an inner landscape that morphs and evolves. The camera lens arrests the evolution of the work and more importantly introduces an analytical distance between the artist and her creation. We don’t see the result of the creative act itself, but see visual evidence of it. Like Sokolow and McGill, Pentecost’s effort represents a self-conscious attempt by the artist to stand back from her work and view it through the dispassionate gaze of a stranger.