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By Mary Voelz Chandler



The act of creating art that turns personal pain into universal concern is nothing new. Narrative paintings that can be read large - or small - is a theme through the history of the medium. two shows this winter follow that path, in works in which artists use family history to explore some basic truths and seek understanding for the non-understandable.

The first example is "Iswaswillbe," a show of work by Geoffrey Laurence at the Singer Gallery in the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Laurence, who lives in Santa Fe and received his master of fine arts from the New York Academy, addresses events, some horrific or inhuman, that cannot be explained, but should not be forgotten.

Primarily among those is the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of many in his parents' families, though Laurence also takes on the subjects of war, money and faith. His painting style is extremely accomplished and has the ring of Old Master intensity and luminosity in terms of the rendering of figures and. especially, their clothing.

Singer curator Simon Zalkind has hung the show so we can see the evolution of the work: Laurence's paintings ring the outer wall, while studies for them hang on the gallery's central triangle of walls. The most striking, or perhaps the most shocking in its metaphorical approach to the incomprehensible, is itswaswwbe. Laurence has placed a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl and an apple-cheeked Nazi officer in the spotlight, set against a red theater curtain. The man has his arm thrown over the skeleton's shoulder, a sort of surreal - and macabre - mini-chorus line that demonstrates the evil humans can do during their time onstage.

Laurence said the work was part of his desire to address his family's deaths and his parents' pain. In short, "I try to understand my life through painting." The work which reportedly has stirred discussion among gallery visitors, gains its title from the translation of the Hebrew word Jahweh: "the force/spirit/energy that is all that is, was and will be."

In a different vein, Laurence uses the backdrop of classical paintings to address the looting of the Baghdad Museum and the role of Wall Street in governing our lives. In the first piece, HoldFast, three soldiers sit on a bench in various poses of repose or alertness. Behind them is a section of an almost kinetic Rubens' painting of a rape scene, a telling juxtaposition to the crisp detailing in the soldiers' bodies and gear. Laurence says he used the three figures to illustrate "the transition of one soldier's war experiences," from bravado to disgust.

For students of the use of light and reflection and the way in which white and black can illuminate something as inert as cloth, Collateral Damage is an object lesson in the painter's art. A well-dressed man on the telephone - and wearing a jester's hat sits before a reference to Guido Reni's painting of St. Michael and the devil. The subject is Wall Street and its control of the world's economy, though Laurence notes it's up to us to decide whether the man is in control or controlled.

Like life itself.



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