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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED

Humor is the byproduct when classical style meets the mundane

01/18/02

By Doug MacCash Art critic

 

Orlando-based artist Rose Thome Casterline's figural paintings and drawings in her solo exhibit "Blah, Blah, Blah: Notes and Narratives," at Soren Christensen Gallery, may not have the anatomical accuracy of the Old Masters, but they do have some of the characteristics.

 

Her figures have the baroquely bulbous muscles of Michelangelo's studies for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They have the unhalting, undulating contour lines of Pollaiuolo, the inspired elasticity of El Greco and the emotional grotesqueness of Goya. All with a messy modern touch of artistic aggression and impatience a la Kokaschka or Bacon.

 

With those art historical heavyweights in her stylistic corner, you'd expect Casterline to dwell on the same sort of grave subject matter: religious passion, moral anguish, psychological struggle, death and the inevitable plunge to damnation.

Instead, she devotes her muscular paintings to the most middling of modern-day moments. "If the Shoe Fits" heroically depicts women trying on loafers in a department store. "Sippy Cup" is an exhausted golfer on the back nine, majestically sucking a sports drink through a magenta spiral-straw. In "One Trip," a suburban housewife in slippers struggles with grocery sacks and boxes. In "Pep Rally," an excited fan exorcises her demons by shouting hysterically from the bleachers. And in "Moment of Silence," we witness the bitter epiphany of a father video taping his somewhat overweight daughter's ballet performance, as she glowers in embarrassment.

 

Yes, Casterline isolates the transcendent human drama in ordinary middle-American endeavors, then she lampoons it without mercy. Or does she? Funny thing is, Casterline's artist's statement doesn't mention comedy.

 

Instead, she writes about her interest in social interaction and body language. "The nuances of the human condition may be an expression of movement as small, subtle and internal as a ‘butterfly stomach' or as large and external as a fall," she writes. But just what kind of a fall does she mean? To an outside observer, Casterline takes the emotional turmoil of Michelangelo's fall from grace and interprets it as a trip to a central Florida strip mall.

 

Whether you interpret these paintings as satirical or sincere, each is a brilliant idea, rendered brilliantly. Like George Dureau, Casterline has updated the idea of classical drawing and made it entirely contemporary and entirely her own.

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BLAH, BLAH, BLAH:

NOTES AND NARRATIVES

By Rose Thome Casterline

What: Paintings and drawings on canvas and wood panel.

Where: Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569-9501.

When: Tues-Sat, 10 a.m. to 5, through Jan. 31.

 

 

 

 

Shared Beauty Of Paintings And Pots

July 16, 2003|By Philip E. Bishop, Sentinel Correspondent

 

The two-person exhibition at Crealde School of Art would make the perfect decor for a living room, if you didn't care much about furniture.

 

There are well-matched colors, gentle floral imagery and just enough neurotic tension to keep the conversation moving.

Called "Paint & Surface," the show features paintings by Rose Casterline and clay art by Tim Ludwig. It was jointly curated by Crealde's Susan Vey and Rima Jabbur, who must have known these paintings and pots would look great in the same room.


Ludwig is a longtime art teacher in Daytona Beach and founder of Arthaus, a program to promote the arts in Volusia County.

His pots and vases have all the relaxed maturity you'd expect from a veteran potter. Their shapes rumple and sag as if they had sprouted from the earth instead of a potter's wheel. At the edges, orange terra cotta peeks through the white slip, the liquid glaze that covers the clay. It all seems to be part of Ludwig's plan -- casual, imperfect, but utterly complete in its beauty.

 

Most of the 15 ceramic works are painted with semi-tropical flowers and fruit -- plantain lily, ginger, lemon and Watsonia. The outline of flowers and foliage is incised into the clay, curling up and around a vessel's curving side. In some cases a paper-thin ceramic square has been applied, hinting of pricey botanical prints.

 

Ludwig's palette is muted orange and faded green, the colors of a Florida garden on a cloudy morning. In her statement, Vey explains that Ludwig's low-salt firing method achieves "a lightly glazed quality reminiscent of early American salt-glazed ware." The salt spray introduced during firing produces a marbled effect in the slip, giving the surface a natural variegation.

 

But Ludwig is no sentimentalist. He has drilled black drywall screws in sharp lines across some of these pots, spoiling them as functional ware. The screws are a quirky or even perverse punctuation to the delicacy of Ludwig's image and form. Like a Zen master, Ludwig lulls us with the gentleness of nature and then gives us a sharp rap on the head with his cane.

 

Casterline's 11 untitled oil paintings are inquiries into the psychology of public spaces. In the grocery store produce section or a workplace crew room, Casterline's characters are physically compressed in ways that are psychically revealing.

 

In one scene, a store clerk in a hairnet stands near a shopping cart occupied by a laughing (or screaming) toddler. Behind them, helium-filled balloons in the shapes of a turtle and fish float like carnival spirits over the produce. The clerk's bright red apron symbolizes the restriction of adult life, always defined by roles and duties. The toddler, on the other hand, exudes the unrepressed and vaguely demonic energy of a child who has not yet submitted to toilet training.

 

In another Casterline scene, a woman steps boldly away from the employee check-in desk of what must be a theme park. Young men line up to have their lunch bags inspected and prepare to go on duty through a door inscribed with the command "Smile!" The girl who's going off duty is really smiling -- apparently re-entering the part of her day when unregulated authenticity is the rule. We see her in what Casterline's statement calls those "moments when the private self is revealed in the public forum."

 

Part of the force in Casterline's paintings comes from the physicality of her figures. Curator Rima Jabbur's statement describes this as "a fine balance between buoyant athleticism and poised delicacy." Often the arms or torsos of figures press into the foreground, their size exaggerated as if by the perspective of a fish-eye camera lens.

 

Proportions are also varied for effect. In one scene, a burly young woman in overalls chats on a portable phone. One of her forearms is a brawny limb aimed toward the front of the picture plane. The opposite arm recedes with a ballerina's gracefulness into the distance.

 

Though her scenes have the quality of post-modern cartoons -- imagine Norman Rockwell with a bad attitude -- in fact Casterline's treatment of the paint itself distances and deflects her subjects. Her atmospheres are really carefully worked surfaces that have a mystery no grocery-store lighting could achieve. Objects and faces are rendered with a gestural emphasis that's never too precise. In a way, she's made her characters generic people whom we've seen before and might see anywhere again, but can't quite recognize.

 

This elusiveness is apparent in another grocery store scene, where a stereotypical housewife in white gloves strides cheerily along an aisle, followed by a bag-boy pushing her cart. Male clerks stand almost at attention between stacks of canned goods. The conformist anonymity of their uniform is belied in the peering gaze of the clerk at far right. His expression is as illegible as his name tag.

 

There is an aura of the 1950s, when the cliches of social roles and traditional family life were advertised in the likes of The Saturday Evening Post. Casterline exposes the cliches with humor, a light touch, but also a sardonic bite.

 

Ludwig’s clay art and Casterline’s painting Share a luscious palette of apricot, sage, and sandy yellow. If you lived long enough with this art, you’d start to feel a recurrent shiver of irony and worldly wisdom.