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Pawns of Society, 2000
African Wonderstone
© Patricia Armato, 2000

Women Do Figure: Bodyworks:
Patricia Armato,
Catherine Cajandig,
Molly J.Schiff

March 28 - April 28, 2000
Monday-Friday: 9-5 pm;
Saturday: 9-3 pm.

Illinois Institute of Art
350 North Orleans
Chicago, Illinois 60654-1593
Telephone: 312/ 280-3500
(Curator: Heather Accurso: x5986)


Sensuous; beautiful; living flow and movement stayed and captured in form without formulae; in planes without perspective; in elemental color without compromise. "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks" is a quest exhibition now at the Illinois Institute of Art lobby gallery in Chicago's Apparel Mart, 350 North Orleans, and it will run until April 28, 2000. "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks" brings together in a coherent, exciting display the work of three Chicago women artists: Patricia Armato, Catherine Cajandig, and Molly J.Schiff.

The work in "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks" forms a harmony; each piece has great merits, and their curation together complements a unity. The exhibitors recall and build upon affinities with the Synthetism first nurtured by the circle of Pont-Aven artists, and here, at the Illinois Institute of Art space, they reveal an American expression and development. In France, Synthetism drew upon varied sources - Japanese prints, medieval stained glass, Italian primitive art - but it soon settled on certain approaches. The major tendencies were to begin with an initial impression, and prune away the inessential and distracting, while encouraging rearrangement and intuitive distortion -- a search for the initial 'right feel' of the subject. Such art responds to Paul Gauguin's urging: "Art is an abstraction! Study nature and then brood on it and treasure the creation which will result." (Quoted by Caroline Boyle-Turner in The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin & His Circle in Brittany, (Abbeville Press: 1986).) The works of these three artists are treasures.

The Right Balance, 2000
French Alabaster
© Patricia Armato, 2000

Patricia Armato

Patricia Armato is represented by eleven sculptures in alabaster and African wonderstone. Each piece fascinates, glows and draws one in, and in the end yields a deeply gratifying experience. Armato's pieces retain that power upon repeated viewing. This art holds enduring quality. The question is... why? A first impression is definitely one of flow and movement, mass molded and formed to evoke balance and force: muscular force, gravital force, force and the response to natural forces. It is so evident that in those works where it seems to recede, the repose or acquiescence in the sculptural work is particularly striking. Pawns of Society is just one of those pieces of repose. Fashioned from African wonderstone, Pawns of Society overall seems two figures back-to-back -- twins who both touch and turn from each other; and there is the further evocation of male, in the apex of each element, and female, in the visceral midpoint of the work. Whether icons of servility per se, or of a subservience to sensuality, Pawns of Society strikes a powerful, coherent sensation.

The sculptures' strengths arise from two sources: the artist's insight and the natural luxury of the material. Michelangelo's deep insight into the pulse and flex of muscle and skin was said to so capture a pose that one recognized the very moment of a gesture in its tension or release. The sculptural pieces by Armato seize upon the core perception of a body's mute, dynamic repertoire of movement, and abstract the flesh away; a direction approached by Rodin in his dance sketches. It is what the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi grasped:

When you see a fish, you do not think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through water...I want just the flash of its spirit.
In Brancusi by Eric Shanes,
(Abbeville Press: 1988)

Although often tranquil, even serene, there is little dull, leaden -- static -- in Armato's alabasters. She captures a visceral, breathing impression, an essence, and prunes away the non-essential.

Torso, 2000
Michigan Alabaster
© Patricia Armato, 2000

What is evoked in Armato's art is not specific form, but mass, supple although in stone, flowing although solid; stone as light frozen or liquid stilled and mounted for display -- perceptual essence over manual finesse. Her choice of stone for each individual piece is very much a part of that achievement. While at the opening the artist attributed much to serendipity, the patterns, hues, their translucencies greatly augment technique and expression. In The Right Balance, the rich chocolate hue of the French alabaster glows and ripples to heighten the pose; a pose which seems a preparation for the dance. And Torso, where the cream-colored Michigan alabaster reveals darker, horizontal venation, one feels a balanced dynamic between the pattern's natural inclination, and the vertical orientation of the form created by the artist. Physicist Erwin Schrodinger, in a rare foray into biological discourse, once noted that, in a world of entropy, a living thing has the "astonishing gift of concentrating a 'stream of order' on itself and thus escaping the decay into atomic chaos." (What is Life?, (Cambridge University Press: 1967). In Torso, Armato calls forth a human form; calls it up through inert and contrary striation of stone. One feels at the very first "a stream of order" -- human, materializing out of random, natural deposit. The French poet, Paul Valery, might well have written of Torso:

Je sui belle, o mortels!
comme un reve de pierre

Many of Armato's pieces reveal a transcendant focus, a human resonance where stone and inspiration meet; and one discerns at times a reappearing, personal iconography. Uninterrupted Direction (Colorado Alabaster); Feminine Psche [sic] (Italian Alabaster); even the seemingly matronal Acquired Wisdom (Alabaster), with its suggestion of hair bun and shawl on right shoulder... all are fashioned with a visceral void, an aperture. It seems more an openness than an emptiness. In the gentle curves of Human Spirit (Alabaster), Patricia Armato's spiritual concerns are more explicit, but even in Leda (Michigan Alabaster), one perceives a swan, bill buried in breast feathers, which was the form of Zeus in his fertile visitation. As conceived in stone, if there is a Leda, she and the ancient god are one.

Hold the Thought, 2000
© Patricia Armato, 2000

Armato's Hold the Thought (Alabaster) terminates in a gentle, snail-shell spiral at the apex, which suggests not capture or enclosure of a passing notion, but rather refuge and sustenance of an abiding fancy. Patricia Armato's sculptures in alabaster and wonderstone, now at the Illinois Institute of Art Gallery, Chicago, subtly touch upon what the ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching found embodied beneath material appearances.

The Way itself is like some thing
seen in a dream...
In it are images, elusive, evading one.
In it are things like shadows in twilight.
In it are essences, subtle but real,
Embedded in truth.

Lao Tzu, The Way of Life,
(Mentor Books: 1964)

Runners, 2000
Mixed Media
© Catherine Cajandig, 2000

Catherine Cajandig

Catherine Cajandig's seven monoprints and five mixed media pieces in "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks" are striking. They draw from the vocabularies of Synthetism and Vorticism, the latter which brought movement and tempo to analytical Cubist schools; and Cajandig often employs strong line, graceful and vital, to work upon clean, varied color contours. Catherine Cajandig, with a sound instinct for both physical motion and for the movement of line and painted form, plays overlapping contours each into each: strobes the paths of gesture and at times unities multiple figures as if one single, mercurial dance. Runners (Mixed Media) is representative with its five figures rendered, as if translucent, in a harmonized series. The sense of motion here recalls what Marcel Duchamp sought in his Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), but whereas Duchamp tentatively strove, and thus forced the end, Cajandig approaches the goal with intuitive subtlety. Similarly in Imagery (Mixed Media), a viewer finds five strobed figures, each of whose body contour is filled with strata which mimics geological sedimentations: there is a sense of unmoving earth, or a stable, unrelenting internal ground which persists in the midst of passing flight.

Tango, 2000
Mixed Media
© Catherine Cajandig, 2000

In several of Cajandig's works, the essence of motion breaks into dance. Tango (Mixed Media) exemplifies a trait Cajandig employs with skill and to great effect: here, the fill of the melded figures form a unity with the visual ground; i.e. the eye is drawn to resolve the floating turquoise contours into forms, but finds the figures centrally poised in the deep, marbled, blue, white and resonant turquoise. Color confounds contour with exciting results. The Dancers (Monoprint) is explicit in its theme; and the compositional arrangement takes full advantage, conscious advantage of the planar surface to capture the essentials of the act, and it seems an act, rather than its depiction. It is Cajandig's stylization, and often delicate, gracious harmonies of forms, which release the image from immediate illusionism to the greater power of the images. Anything less would lessen hers, and the viewer's experience. Pierre Bonnard, an artist who gained much from Gauguin and the Pont-Aven circle, once exclaimed, and rightly: "Let it be felt that the painter was there." Among Cajandig's works at the Illinois Institute of Art showing, even Autumn Fest (Monoprint) implies dance. In Autumn Fest, three women are bordered on all four sides by strewn maple leaves: the Three Graces, Splendor, Mirth and Good Cheer, come to mind, but it could just as well be the archetype of pagan rite.

Three Amandas, 2000
© Catherine Cajandig, 2000

In "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks," a number of Cajandig's works present odd multiples: one, three, five. Three Amandas (Monoprint) is a fine example of the artist's ability to accomplish a range in visual variety and yet stamp each work with a very distinct, identity of the artist. Three Amandas is executed with a thick brushline on a polychrome ground, the brushwork of which recalls paste-paper or a ragging technique. The artist Ben Shahn employed the approach frequently, but Cajandig works it with a richness and grace both decorative and emotive. Quick Moves (Mixed Media) perhaps brings the figure in ensemble to a limit; there are four tiers of figures, each tier a paper sheet cross-stitched on to a base paper. A unifying feature is the diamond pattern in inked dash-line superimposed discretely within the tiers, but one confesses that the overall, immediate work may be weakened, a bit too busy, and distancing. With Quick Moves, the framed object draws attention from the content and its working expression.

Sleeping Nude, 2000
© Catherine Cajandig, 2000

Cajandig's single figure works are admirable. Sleeping Nude (Monoprint) centers on a young adult woman, but there is a very frail, near fetal sensibility about the subject: she is surrounded by shells of color contours, and whether they be the auras of sleep, or uterine barriers against the conscious world, Cajandig's palette and treatment of tone greatly adds to the contemplative, and empathetic aura. The Bather, a monoprint in siennas and ochres against a red, blue, green background, is worthy of Aristide Maillol. It is Mindscapes (Mixed Media) which seems a covert indication of how intently and intentionally the artist has gone about her art. Its central image, harkening both to geological forms, perhaps a subterranean oil dome, and to the human, a cranial icon, shows chains midway at dome base. Cajandig's images move, pulse and please. The mind ultimately concedes to the eye, hand, and spirit, else it could not rise above the very chains it forms. Cajandig's work in "Women Do Figure: Bodyworks" are immediate, deeply gratifying visually, and well worth a visit. The gallery visitor has until April 28, 2000. It is at the Illinois Institute of Art, 350 North Orleans, Chicago.

End of Part I

--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

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