Friday, November 16, 2007

The lovely bones

Betty Bastai and Shilo de la Cruz at SPSCC

published in The Weekly Volcano, Nov. 15, 2007

pictured: “Hermet Crab Horse,” pastel by Betty Bastai
Photo: Courtesy photo

Betty Bastai’s drawings bring to mind the Alice Sebold novel “The Lovely Bones.” Not the story, just the title. Along the right-hand wall of the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College is a group of eight soft and delicate Bastai drawings of X-ray images — lovely bones seen through human flesh, broken bones repaired with pins. These drawings celebrate the fragility and resilience of the human body even as they evoke associations with the macabre. They are at once sweet, tender and horrifying. And they are beautifully drawn with charcoal, pastel and graphite.

Her images of flesh and bone are drawn in tones of gray, white and a dusty brick red on a misty black ground. The red tones glow like embers in a dying fire; the grays merge mysteriously with the foglike background, and the bleach-white bones seem to hover in a forward plane.

The largest work in the series is “You Are Good For Nothing,” a composition that skirts precarious imbalance with a human rib cage filling the right half and a broken arm held together with pins angling across the left side.

Another excellent work in this group is “You Are Just A Kid,” which is an X-ray image of a face seen in close-up with glaring white teeth and bone structures within the face that do not seem to fit anything human. Maybe there are overlapping X-ray images in this picture, or maybe this face has been so badly damaged as to be unrecognizable as human bone structure.

Other drawings by Bastai are not as strong or as well unified as these.
There are a lot of horses in her other drawings. Or parts of horses. A single leg and hoof show up as a repeated motif in drawing after drawing. Often they are seen as in silhouette or as a paper cut-out image in a solid color (not literally cut out but a visual simulation), and in most of the drawings this leg is the single unifying element in a composition that would otherwise break apart. The horse drawings are more colorful than the bone series, but the designs are not as solid.

But there are exceptions. One of the best works in the show is “Hermit Crab Horse,” a large pastel of a single horse placed in an abstract pyramidal structure of flat gray, green and blue shapes. The horse is rushing forward. His leg, face and chest form an abstract configuration of angular forms that mirrors the background shapes.

Also showing is sculptor Shilo De La Cruz with a large number of ceramic heads and figures and small bowls, many of which have little figures dancing along the rims. Taken in a single glance, the De La Cruz stuff is really impressive. There is a large and imposing head on a pedestal just inside the gallery door and another head farther in that stands upside-down on a pedestal, and a table in the middle that is filled with brown and white ceramic heads. All of these heads are certainly striking when seen as a group as are a number of Giacometti-like standing figures. The ceramics are appealing when seen as a large installation, but when the individual pieces are studied in detail, they become less impressive. The little standing figures are too standard. The Giacometti influence is too obvious, and they are too tentative, hovering uncomfortably between abstraction and realism. And the disjointed heads suffer from decorative glazes that seem arbitrary.

The one exception is a piece called “Diana.” It is the largest head in the show. It is a solid gray-green color and with very little detail. It has an ancient and foreboding look like the head of some giant sculpture from antiquity that has fallen off the body and has been worn smooth over time.

[South Puget Sound Community College, through Nov. 30, Tuesday-Saturday noon-5 p.m., 2011 Mottman Rd. S.W. Olympia, 360.596.5508]

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