CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Cause and effect: Brown makes her marks

Sara Brown handed me her business card during the opening of her current exhibition at the Mudhouse, and I promptly tucked it in my wallet without really looking at it. When I took it out later, I had to smile. The front of the tiny, oblong card features a photograph of a white industrial sink splattered with multi-colored paint, accumulated from years of rinsing brushes and containers.

That Brown would notice this accidental abstract painting on plumbing and think to put it on her card makes sense, given the nature of the work displayed at the Mudhouse. With the exception of several charcoal portraits (competent if bland), the show contains pieces that combine elements of drawing and painting in ways that reveal Brown's love of spontaneous marks and the beauty of chance.

Three watery acrylic-on-paper compositions at the front of the café feature varied streaks and drips of grey descending vertically across the white page, creating the sensation of ink-washed winter woods. Closer examination, however, reveals them to be more complex and abstract. Brown experiments with horizontal swaths of white paint here and there, and even incorporates a thin wave and a few specks of gold in one of the pieces. Quietly textured, with a bit of minimal collage, the trio seems the result of Brown's saying, "I wonder what would happen if..."

Her paintings on panels, both large and small, also reflect this interest in encouraging marks and strokes to create an uncontrolled dynamic. Brown often incorporates writing into her work, not as an element to be read (more often than not her scrawl is illegible), but rather as a kind of energetic drawing that can be smudged, scratched, and erased. Painted in washed-out greens, blues, and oranges, her pieces often have an ethereal feeling at odds with the numerous layers she uses to create her effects.

Several of the smaller works feature recognizable representations— a service station in one, a pick-up truck in another— but Brown's strength lies in her purely abstract pieces where the writing and faint line drawings elude the viewer's impulse to assign meaning. These compositions resemble old walls, with bits of graffiti visible amid the remnants of paint and stains like indecipherable relics of unknown pasts.

Brown's intentional cultivation of randomness in her work gives them their visual impact— not unlike the spontaneous beauty of a paint-covered sink.

Sara Brown's paintings and drawings are on view at Mudhouse through the end of December.213 W. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 984-6833.