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Review: Played to Win and City in Mind

D. Eric Bookhardt on new works by Elizabeth Fox and Barbara Brainard

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What happens when a female artist who spent most of her life in the subtropical South moves to the frigid North? If longtime New Orleanian Elizabeth Fox's paintings are any guide, the adjustment may be full of surprises. While much of her past work reflected New Orleans' tropical languor, her new home, Maine, has long been a bastion of austere New England attitudes. But this may be changing, as we see in Drag Queens in the Rain (pictured). Drag queens gathered like bevies of colorful tropical birds are a common French Quarter sight, but it's disorienting to see them outside a rustic country cabin in the North. A painting of an ice fishing scene looks traditional at first, but a cutaway view reveals a bag of money on a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice — a reminder that Maine is now a hotbed of heroin distribution. Fox's dreamlike views of office workers, based on her years at a prominent local law firm, provide continuity, but if her typically slinky office women and ambitious metrosexual males sometimes look a little lost in their new environs, this also may be a reflection of the Pine Tree State's 21st-century identity crisis. In these works, Fox's flair for social commentary seems as sharp as ever.

  The atmospheric qualities of particular places can be surprisingly psychological. In Barbara Brainard's monoprints at Cole Pratt Gallery — images reflecting her views of the city as seen from her bicycle — the human presence is implicit, appearing as recently emptied garbage cans scattered in the street, or as a ramshackle old building comprising countless additions that make it look like a kind of human hive. Looming over it all is blazing summer light filtered through the city's gelatinously humid air, and here nature itself appears as a colorfully unpredictable character that we dare not ignore.

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