CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Suburban blur: Patrick's ho-hum house work

Several years ago, my dad decided to opt out of having Christmas at our house in Lexington. Instead, we visited my cousin Ginger and her husband, Bob, in their home-on-a-golf-course located in a little slice of über-suburbia known as "Avalon" (I kid you not) in Chesterfield. 

Ever since, what the holidays mean to me is walking the dog through Spyglass Hill everything– Circle, Crescent, Loop, Mews (!)— on streets that wind oh-so graciously through houses that are all variations on a tasteful theme, a blur of arched windows and double-car garages in sage green, dusty rose, and dove gray.

I was reminded of that experience as I viewed Susan Patrick's current exhibition, "Houses and Neighborhoods," at Angelo. The 14 mixed-media images combine print and collage to depict houses, simplified into basic shapes, with details that Patrick mixes and matches.

Whereas in Avalon the houses represent dull-as-dishwater architectural balance, Patrick's creations resemble childish drawings, lopsided and intentionally rudimentary (a la Paul Klee). But the off-kilter details and quirks, repeated from one piece to the next, lose any sense of spontaneous energy, and their calculated naiveté becomes tedious and precious. 

Patrick centers her mostly black, white, and grey images in subtly textured white mattes surrounded by thin black frames. Such simplicity is usually a good idea, but in this case, the presentation further blurs the images into barely distinguishable variations. 

Where Patrick introduces color, the work fares much better. For instance, the quiet mauve details in "Built House ii," though minimal, give the eye something to latch onto. Even more successful is "House on a Hill," which features a central structure set on a mauve and purple hill beneath a mottled blue sky, punctuated by a simple screen-door detail that gives the piece an unexpected jolt.

By far, though, the strongest piece in the show is "Tucker House." Here Patrick uses white inside and outside her colorful cutouts to effectively unify the work. Subtle directional lines in the printed papers add interest, but the contrast between a bruise-colored shadow jutting beneath the mottled gray house and a single upper-story window opening onto the stark white background gives the piece its impact. 

The rest of "Houses and Neighborhoods" seems like a ho-hum series of in-process studies compared to the finished resolution of "Tucker House"– not unlike the way suburban McMansions appear when placed next to a true architectural gem.

Susan Patrick's "Houses and Neighborhoods" is on view at Angelo through the end of February. 220 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 971-9256.