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August 23rd, 2006 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Underwater Idylls

Sonia Kasparian summons the Ladies of the Lake (and one naked dude, too).

     
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First, know this: Sonia Kasparian is a romantic. There's no getting around that. This is no naturalist, postmodernist, or Gen-Y termite cutester here. No, this is a visionary with utopic designs and the technical and aesthetic means to portray them—successfully. As such, necessarily, she straddles the divide between edginess and cheese in Light, her third outing at Butters. In the past, Kasparian's haunting multimedia shows have displayed a marked sculptural and textile influence, with their flowing gowns and spooky trees reaching out with gnarled branches. These gothalicious extravaganzas were basically one fog machine away from a Dead Can Dance concert. And that's a good thing—trust me—if only an artist can summon the moxie to commit, yet still hold back from the precipice of provolone.

Kasparian accomplishes this by virtue of her works' enigma, process, presentation and, yes, their craft. She has photographed clothed and unclothed people swimming in what looks like an enchanted Celtic brook but is actually a West Hills swimming pool. She's digitally manipulated the photos, then semi-obscured them behind scratched Plexiglas, tattered porch screens, and hand-sewn foreground and framing elements, as in Upon Reflection. In many cases she has opted to judiciously paint these elements with contours lifted from the underlying photos, projecting the figures onto a second plane and yielding nifty optical superimpositions, which shift according to the viewer's vantage point. The finished works portray a Lorelei-like nymph world of repose and seduction: aquatic idylls of Ladies of the Lake in flowy fabric and soft focus, as in the aptly titled Sirens and From the Depths. If David Hamilton donned an Aqualung and dove into Atlantis, these are the mermaids he would photograph. Only three of the images portray male nudes, most notably the dreamy, fetal Waterboy. (Kasparian had photographed additional mer-men, but the images were lost when her studio was burglarized and her camera stolen—we hope the bastard thieves developed the skinnydipping dong-danglers and were properly scandalized.) Rounding out the show, works like Soiled #1 and #2 present their subject matter more straightforwardly, pointing to more conceptual, less Stevie Nicksian directions for this always captivating artist.


Butters Gallery, 520 NW Davis St., 2nd floor, 248-9378. Closes Sept. 2.
 
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