Culture- ART FEATURE- Jar flies: Italiano's bugged pots

Down came a morning of rain, up shot the mercury, and out came the bane of my summer existence— mosquitoes. Although my pheromones don't always attract the human company I desire, I am an absolute mosquito magnet. 

Still there were a few mosquitoes I was happy to see this past week— the ones buzzing about the ceramic pieces of Liliana Italiano, whose painting and pottery exhibition, "Postscript," is currently on display at Art Upstairs.

According to the gallery's Alice Cannon, Italiano until recently focused on creating layered brown sculptures featuring caricature-like nudes. Several of these pieces, mainly wall reliefs, are in the show, but, despite the interpersonal dramas they depict, they seem drab and lifeless next to Italiano's most recent work, which zings with winged insects crawling across color blocks of orange and white.

The black-outlined bugs call to mind the sgraffito technique of former McGuffey potter August Rolin, but Italiano's pieces are more whimsical and less personal than Rolin's. Her flies and mosquitoes tell no story apart from their lighthearted, cartoon-ish bug-ness. In addition, Italiano scratches in subtle, compositionally effective accents like a few stitches that sew together the tangerine and ecru panels of a bowl. Reflecting a running theme of the show, many of her columnar vases also bear faint traces of writing.

Italiano alternately throws and hand builds her vessels, but the zest she infuses into her subjects and colorful glazes sometimes leads to careless production. Here the clay is cracked and pocked, there an uneven glaze shows crazing— effects that could be intentional but could just as easily be the inadvertent result of speed.

Italiano's abstract paintings appear more careful, though no less joyous, than her pots, and there is a clear continuum between the two mediums. Like her vessels, the acrylic paintings revel in rich color and contain bits of inscrutable writing. Their compositional elements often include flat renditions of nude figures mixed with geometric and organic shapes. 

For example, Italiano places several female figures against a dark cerulean background in "Rea." The most prominent, a reclining nude painted a deep violet, deliciously stretches across areas saturated with poppy orange and yellow ochre.

The painting "Tinta Rioja" and several ceramic vases interestingly incorporate rectangular recessed areas that effectively create separate framed levels within the works. On the pots, these windows occasionally contain charming little insect portraits. 

If only all of summer's bugs could be as pleasant as Italiano's.

Liliana Italiano's exhibition of paintings and ceramics, "Postscript," is on view at Art Upstairs through June 30. 316 E. Main St. (2nd floor of the Hardware Store). 923-3900.