(This is a copy of the original newspaper article except for the omission of part of the comment on Byron Burford and the correction of obvious typographical errors. A copy of the announcement of the exhibits reviewed is also shown.)

 


The Sunday Oregonian, January 24, 1971

Jarold Rosenblum is a painter and visiting assistant professor of art at Reed College.


 

SOCIAL COMMENTARY PERMEATES
by Jerold Rosenblum


Three exhibitions running concurrently at the Fountain Gallery represent unusually accomplished artists whose work is distinctive and highly personal and yet so strongly complementary that it encourages comparison. Each of the three-- Byron Burford, a well-known and distinguished printmaker and two young artists, husband and wife ceramicist Ben Sams and soft sculptress Dana Boussard explore their media with remarkable flexibility and assurance.

A strong, at times specifically targeted social commentary, permeates their work, but the space they share is peopled by figures in very special disarray. There is a highly personal dissolution and reassembling of the body in which an understanding of conventional forms of construction provides a point of departure for a process of dismemberment essentially romantic and humane--if somewhat grim. The approach to order and expression through possibility; figures and fairy tales disassembled, mutated and vestigial is frightening only if we cannot accept an artist's imperative to shape body to meet the special requirements of his mind and time as an act of love.

However shocking this dialectic may be if one image of the figure in art is substantially described by a tradition of rationally defined, though idealized realism, it permits artists such as Burford, Sams, and Boussard to attempt a reordering of the perimeters of the body and it mental and physical environment. Hieronymus Bosch with his impeccably controlled, wonderfully theatrical metaphysics filters through. But their work exposes a very different nervous system and in a sense implodes Bosch's most beautiful garden, as on film in the final few moments of "Zabriskie Point" Antonioni's stunningly exploded objects become whole, impossibly beautiful and expressive; uniquely functional and rational in a space that challenges our habitual sense of order and logic and priorities.

As with Bosch, there is much in the work of these three artists that is erotic, but truly so only if, as viewer, you are prepared to experience eyes in every state of undress; exposed, loving, loveless, sighted, and blind, dead and alive. And distilled from a sense of death as a constant life process there is a gentle humor and compassion that permit the extraction of desire and hope from this phenomena of despair.

Sam's ceramic bestiary is distinguished in its devotion to an impressively complex balancing act, democratically governed. His men and women and beasts and halfway creatures are all unequal and none pretend to be what they are. Small intimate cups crawl and convolute and turn up all hollow head and tacky limbed with no end in sight. They are beautifully crafted and of course practical and you are the vessel.

In increasing scale we trip through the mind's body furniture: blessed event savings banks and hopeless chests and strange clay gardens. Organs, doors, apertures and entrance ways bud and sprout unevenly in a strained composite world that refused to stand still. In imperfect reproductions thalidomide creatures cheer us on and we are free to examine the Rorschach smear residue of our body after it has been flattened and creased by our mind and culture. But finally the faces have in their clean modelling a disquieting eyelessness through references to pop and funk and pre-Columbian Egypt, a life and death mask balance that helps to keep the whole affair tightly connected.

There is an equally complex but very different mix superbly worked in vinyl and fabric in the hangings, couch piece and taxidermal creatures of Dana Boussard. In "Light," a priest's vestment open and hung, she embroiders a very delicate sensibility with unusual strength. By avoiding caricature she enlarges traditional iconography through an American heraldry composed of fairy tales and Disney gone astray, soft sex pods, velvet color and Indian artifact which achieves a distinctly religious cloth cosmology. Several drawings act as keys to a sharp laughter just beneath the patent leather skin of "Orwell's Hot Dog Farm," a surprisingly comfortable vinyl couch cover. Perched on it I felt embraced but slightly spooked by the American dream in state of elegant collapse mounted at the back of my neck; a martyr struck through with plastic feathers and Swiftian concern.

Departing, a convoluted fire hose with pipes set in a box in the gallery wall startled me; in some strange way it was now both more and less difficult to return to the street and that is at least one point at which art has a beginning and an end.