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Exhibition delivers its healing message with a quiet power

Geoff Laurence laces his academically inspired figure paintings with ambiguity and angst in his exhibition of 19 oils at the Fred K. Kline Gallery. His theatrically designed images are powerfully delivered through arefined but painterly style that reveals impeccable draftsmanship and a firm knowledge of human anatomy.

Laurence obviously studies the craft of art. He avoids the final polish of photo‑realism in favor of relaxed brushwork that animates rather than imitates. He incorporates the psychological al space of British painter Lucian Freud (the grandson of Sigmund Freud) by emotionally isolating his characters from one another. There is little warmth or human kindness in his compositions. His subjects are posed as if caught in documentary snapshots of a stage play. In his imaginary production the acting is wooden, with each player delivering lines rote.

In "Union,' a man wearing a flower‑print dress is seated in a chair. Gender blending has long been a subject in art. Sculptures of the ancient Egyptain King Tutankhamun depict the young man with breasts. This androgynous nous rendering of the boy king gave him symbolic power to reign over men and women with equal wisdom. Some current historical speculation tion indicates that the "Mona Lisa" may have been Leonardo's self‑portrait in drag. During the 1920s Marcel Duchamp (1887‑1968) invented a feminine alter ego named Rose Selavy (a play on Eros se la vie). Duchamp occasionally appeared as Ms. Selavy in public and attributed some of his works to her hand. Contemporary rock stars ranging from Michael Jackson to Mick Jagger push open the gender envelope.

Laurence's latest and, in many ways, best painting, titled "Ace in The Hole," depicts two men playing cards. The same model in different attire posed for both figures. On the right the darkly lit man with a pony tail is reminiscent of the young boy in 'House of Cards" by Jean‑Baptiste‑Siméon Chardin (1699‑1779). Laurence, in painting this interior or tableau, has exploited his abilities ties as a French salon‑style artist. The background is filled with details, including still‑life objects. There is a play with the scale of the two figures and the table and chairs that creates a surrealistic feeling. The centrally located light source baths the figure on the left wearing a white shirt and loose necktie in bright, revealing luminosity. We are witnessing two sides of the same personality in the picture. The man on the left is the tired businessman openly relaxing with a beer and card game, while the figure on the right holds the cards close to his chest and sizes up his opponent.

Dual personalities, homosexuality, environmental concerns, death, post‑modernist deconstruction, mythology and the Holocaust are addressed throughout the exhibition. Reflections upon inter‑dimensional gateways are approached in "Threshold." depicting a woman with her hands pressed against a bathroom mirror. The reflected scene is the reality of the painting. The real woman is cut off by the picture's edge leaving only her disembodied hands and her reflection as proof of her existence.

In the mirror a window looks out onto a cold, urban landscape. The whole picture becomes a window onto the character's unspoken inner conflict. The woman is trying to get in touch with herself. The concerned expression on her face indicates that she may not be able to make the connection.
Without the use of a mirror, "Cries and Whispers" reflects contemporary life. The painting, filled with people, focuses on two women in the foreground. The nude woman on the right with hair down imparts a secret to the clothed show.

A nude woman on her knees in a bed of human bones provides an island of serenity in "Prayer." Her hands are clasped together and her eyes are closed. Her hair is piled up in a tight bun like a Buddhist or Hindu deity. The background is filled with technological detritus of all kinds, forming a wall of chaos behind the contemplative figure.

"Shifra, Shifra" presents one nude and one clothed woman in the foreground in full color. In the background are horrific black‑and-white renderings of men picking through the dead victims of the holocaust. The color reality of the women and the stark background reminded me of the 1960s American film "The Pawn Broker," starring Brad Steiger.

The film opens with a beautiful impressionistic scene of a father playing with his children. Suddenly the camera is flying over high contrast, black‑and‑white urban blight. The beginning was a dream of life before the Holocaust. The sterile black‑and‑white imagery throughout the rest of the film captures the emotional, ethical and spiritual cost of attempted genocide.

This is a quiet and powerful exhibition. Laurence tries to reunite his characters with themselves and to overcome duality. The paintings rail against the separation between spirit and matter first purposed by René Descartes (1596‑1650). The whole show is about healing the rifts within ourselves. If the paintings are viewed in a linear fashion, a great deal of development is apparent. These are well‑executed and intelligently conceived pictures with a punch.

The content‑laden show and the East Coast‑style gallery with intellectual ambiance are signs of a maturing art scene in Santa Fe. Don't miss this benchmark exhibition.

Geoff Laurence at the Fred K. Kline Gallery, 129 W. San Francisco St., Santa Fe, through Jan. 31. Hours: 10 am‑S p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 988‑1103.



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