Un-common: Two artists little connection
The human body in art has been around probably as long as art. This is just a guess, but a pretty safe one. Whoever might have been around to record something like that has been dead a long time, and they obviously let that historical detail slip away. In other words, it’s a pretty long tradition and also a broad topic.
Still, in choosing this very topic for a common theme, Joan Soderlund and Edith Arbaugh hoped the work they contributed to their joint show at the McGuffey might resonate with one another’s. It doesn’t. Marked by divergent styles and interests, the work of each of these two artists looks right past the other.
Arbaugh mixes a relatively straightforward realism with coy, suggestive points of view. She gravitates towards scenes that find intimate angles to suggest larger scenes.
“The Party,” for example, shows a solitary, weary-looking woman sitting alone, but from the reflection in the window just beyond her, it’s plain that she’s in a room full of people. This sort of flirting with the viewer reaches an apex with “Back Soon,” a painting that, common themes be damned, includes only a plainly rendered kitchen, with an empty red chair pulled back slightly from the table.
Eyes roll over these not-unpleasant paintings easily enough, though Arbaugh doesn’t leave things here. In a second group of paintings, Arbaugh turns her attention to an unwieldy symbolism which, unlike the first set of paintings, will likely cause confusion in most viewers.
Paintings such as “The Dream”– which depicts a large sleeping person orbited by tiny floating people in black leotards– obviously look to mix more classical styles of art. Here, Arbaugh seems to be working by some line of inner logic. It’s just never clear what that line is.
By contrast, the more stylized Soderlund resists the sidelong compositional style and places the human form squarely in the middle of her work. Still, it’s clear that Soderlund has other things in mind. She wants to exploit a contrast between representational art and a more abstract aesthetic.
To that end, Soderlund brings a washed-out palette of pinks and blues and a habit of breaking shape down into squares of color. And so what might, in the context of the entire painting, look like a shoulder or a foot, can also be viewed as an unevenly formed tile in a mosaic.
Though she references Paul Klee explicitly in one of her paintings, she keeps a bit of German Expressionism in her work– especially in paintings like “International Community,” which poke gentle fun at military men by emphasizing the plumage of their helmets, packed together like eggs in a carton.
At the McGuffey Art Center, “2002-New Work-2003,” an exhibit of figurative artwork by Joan Soderlund and Edith M. Arbaugh, is on view through April 27. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.