CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Dances with forks: Sharrer's fabulous conflations

A couple stops at a shack on a beach while a cross-eyed, horned figure wearing one shoe wanders by leading a goat on a tether. A barefoot woman pours tea for an older gentleman as a crow clinging to a brick-red chair whizzes past overhead. Such dreamlike scenes, combining the utterly mundane with the utterly unlikely, may seem lifted from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, but they are, in fact, the visions of painter Honoré Sharrer.

Sharrer's 60-year body of work is currently sampled at the University of Virginia Art Museum in a select retrospective entitled "Humanism an d Enigma." Having garnered critical attention for her post-WWII painting series, "Tribute to the American Working People," Sharrer opted to stay with figural painting when the art world turned toward abstraction (a fickleness she skewers in several of her line drawings).

Yet her color-intoxicated oils dating from 1971-2005, in which she wittily explores an aesthetic of magical realism, are well worth a second, third, and fourth look (in fact, I could hardly tear my eyes away). Sharrer not only seamlessly elides the everyday with the fantastic and conflates the mythic past with the present, she also changes up painting styles and, amazingly, shifts spatial planes within the same image.

For example, in "Roman Landscape," a shadow-casting pink arch carved with bas relief stands in front of a flattened, almost wallpaper-like olive-green landscape. Electric lights festoon the ancient portico, and a motorcycle sits beside it. A fleshy nude woman, arse framed by the arch, moons viewers, while a cymbal-holding nymph, breasts upturned, lies on top of the structure. Meanwhile, a cartoon-ish man on the left looks elsewhere as he dances in turquoise jeans and orange socks beneath a floating, seemingly three-dimensional red cloak (reminiscent of Renaissance paintings).

Sharrer's compositions frequently make wry observations about relationships between the sexes. Men and women occupy the same space without truly engaging each other, clothed men humorously remaining oblivious to the proximity of nude women.

Throughout her work, Sharrer includes cryptic bits of personal symbolism such as cigarette butts, one-shoed figures, contorted forks, crockery, birds, and funny small dogs. And everywhere there is intense color used to sensational effect.

The gallery's anteroom offers a number of Sharrer's simple line drawings and a table of books referring to her work. But it is her rapturous paintings, with all their strange yet unified juxtapositions, that seduce the viewer's imagination.

"Humanism and Enigma: The Art of Honoré Sharrer" is on display at the University of Virginia Art Museum through August 20. 155 Rugby Road. 924-3592.