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It Is What It Isn't



"You're kidding."

I can't help but be blunt. So when Bev Reynolds opened the crate that was storing Teresita Fernandez's "Projection Screen (Black Onyx)," a recent sculpture (2007) involving an almost maddening number of small, slick black-onyx pebbles, the sheer effort of mounting each piece to the wall with its own individual bolt provoked my eloquent response. Hanging a painting is difficult enough. Nailing the undulating movement of "Projection Screen" -- the result of uneven spacing in an overall symmetrical design — was a tall order, but undeniably worth it.

One look at Fernandez's sculptures and it's as clear as Swarovski crystal why the Miami-born, Virginia Commonwealth University-educated artist was the subject of a feature in last April's Vogue magazine and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005. Her materials — onyx, enamel, precision-cut steel that gleams like Tiffany silver — are optically engaging, toying with the reflections of light on various surfaces, while her smooth, reflective pieces emanate elegance.

"Projection Screen (Black Onyx)" is technically a sculpture, being constructed of three-dimensional materials. But as so many truly talented artists have done since Marcel Duchamp turned a urinal upside down and called it art, Fernandez challenges preconceived artistic notions of what's defined as what. Sculptures, for instance, do not typically hang on walls, as "Projection" does. Moreover, the glistening stones almost resemble drops of liquid paint on a canvas, evoking memories of Jackson Pollock's revolutionary drizzles.

Fernandez's series of small drawings of landscapes and close-up "pinhole" views are compelling despite — or perhaps because of — their small dimensions. Composed solely of black, white and gray tones, these intense pieces are formed from several layers of superimposed Mylar. This layering technique brings to mind certain printmaking processes, particularly lithography, in which an artist goes slowly insane with tedium by printing a single sheet on a separate stone for each color used in the work. The resulting image, like the small vistas and details of ice formations in Fernandez's series, is the result of the artist's piling-up of compositions and colors, one on top of the other.

Abstract expressionists put their canvases on the floor and paint huge works that are frequently called murals by virtue of their gargantuan size, which is intended to draw the viewer into the painting. With great facility, Fernandez achieves the same effect in drawings the size of an index card.

If drawing is blended with lithography in the "Landscape and Pinhole Mylar" series, printmaking and sculpture converge in three untitled slabs of inked marble. Lithographs have been printed on chunks of Bavarian limestone since the 18th century, and inking a rock has never been all that weird or unconventional. But the material makes all the difference here.

Smooth, elegant marble has not, to my knowledge, ever been used as a plate for printing (Google doesn't even recognize the search term). Reynolds Gallery hangs the marble slabs on the wall, a la "Projection Screen." Sculpture? Nah. Fernandez calls them drawings.

The only color in the show is interjected by "Apparition (Green)," a sculpture — on a wall — crafted of enamel and precision-cut steel. In a method not unlike the verre églomisé technique (painting a reversed design on glass), Fernandez coats the reverse side of the piece with a vibrant acid-green enamel that would make John Galliano salivate chiffon. The luminescence of the metal throws a verdant shadow on the supporting wall that seems to be reflected from nowhere — hence the title.

Anna Wintour would approve. S

Teresita Fernandez's artwork is on display at the Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St., through March 1. 355-6553.

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