It is said that opposites attract, but do they really? Not always; it depends on how you look at it. Not only do opposites not always attract, many aren't even really opposite if you think about it. Like travelling to the Far East by heading west, many seeming opposites are actually just opposite sides of the same coin. And sometimes it is all simply a matter of ironic contrasts. Brian Borrello's Deadly Beauty show falls into that latter category.
We think of "beauty" as essentially life affirming, whereas "deadly" can be, well, pretty deadly, but string them together into a phrase and they take on an exotically sinister new life of their own, conjuring fateful expectations of vampy sirens or other toxic seductions. Here the incongruities have to do with the contrast between Borrello's subjects and the way they are depicted. For instance, Dandelion, a 6-foot-tall, black-and-white image of a dandelion leaf executed in charcoal, India ink and motor oil on canvas, is realistically if darkly rendered, complete with little veins, but vastly larger than life. Splendid in its isolation, it possesses something of the ethereal absoluteness that we associate with Zen ink paintings. But unlike Zen paintings, Dandelion has an odd amber aura around it, the probable result of the motor oil that was used as a medium of its execution. Motor oil is toxic to plants and wildlife; oil spills are the bane of beaches and wildlife refuges. Yet there is an elegant symmetry at work here when we recall that oil and coal result from ancient biomass (dinosaurs and dandelions) buried deep in the earth over eons. Buddhists like the analogy of the lotus, the pure white flower that emerges from the slimy muck at the bottom of the pond, a symbol of purity arising from muddy gunk. These foliage pieces touch on similar sensibilities.
Borrello's sculptures are related yet different, having more to do with manufactured objects, only these are often at odds with their real world prototypes. Sphere (for Occupying Mind) looks like an iridescent bowling ball at first, only it's crafted from steel and urethane paint. Similarly, Shoes is a pair of well-worn brown oxfords centered on a leather circle. Look again, and the shoes and their circular setting form a continuous, seamless expanse. Such paradoxical objects hark to surrealism's favorite game: what you might initially expect isn't really what you get. Those shoes may be made for walking but they're not going anywhere. Deadly Beauty is Borrello's aesthetic investigation into the complexities that underlie ordinary appearances.
More opposites, ironies and subverted expectations appear in Teresa Cole's show of relief prints, Tacit Translations. Here, what the title tells us is that we're in for a head trip. "Translations," after all, ordinarily refers to words, whereas "tacit" usually refers to an unspoken understanding, so you know right off the bat that something wavy is in the works. Sure enough, Smother, the most visible piece in the show, is a 14-foot-long print featuring a tangled mass of blond curls flanked by what looks like plush upholstery, all reduced to flat, two-dimensional surfaces. If the name "Smother" sounds deadly, the hair and plush are rather pretty, so this is another example of kinky perceptual contrasts not unlike those seen in Borrello's show.
Red Tide juxtaposes a classical harlequin pattern of red and charcoal diamonds against what looks like a blown up detail from an engraving of a storm-tossed sea. The diamond pattern looks flat while the waves convey a depth and motion, but of course it's all just lines and planes. We are culturally conditioned to see what we expect to see, but Cole moves the goal post, mixing metaphors to focus on the processes of perception itself. Beyond the sometimes intriguing juxtapositions, there are also a number of more minimal works such as Translation #3, a flat gray field punctuated by rows of blue dots that are not always in register, leaving some dots partially blank, and we may wonder what she's up to. Works such as these express a seemingly intentional sameness which, not unlike minimalist musical compositions, can seem downright repetitious, taking the quest to undermine viewer expectations to another level that might seem either tedious or audacious, depending on your point of view.
- Beauty and the beast: Brian Borrello's Dandelion, part of his Deadly Beauty exhibition at Heriard- Cimino, typifies the contrast between artist's subjects and the way they are depicted.