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"Layering Time" may be Sally Bowring's best work to date.

Timeless Translations


Sally Bowring's new series of mixed media paintings at Reynolds Gallery makes for a radiant exhibition and might easily be called her best work to date. Whether Bowring explores the intricate kinship of warm colors or cool ones, the effect is a bewitching mixture of energy and tranquility. The works in the show are acrylic and oil on wood. They combine flat, thinned paint that is almost a stain with a built up impasto which often incorporates plant or decorative materials. Bowring divides this body of work into two basic formats: small (20 x 20") box-inside-a-box paintings, and the organic, geologic (72" x 48") images that align themselves somewhat suggestively with landscapes.

The "box" paintings have a broad repertoire of associations. One generally experiences their point of view as aerial, establishing in them the shelter of geometric order in a greater field of movement. They are a cultivated plot in a tangle of overgrowth; the simplest shape of the pioneer's and the homemaker's faith expressed. Some of the boxes seem hushed and still, indicating spiritual retreat. Others, having bars, summon associations on the duality of restraint and asylum. Still others, dissected in half by vertical wide and narrow lines, propose varied possibilities. Seen as a whole composition they may convey either division or alliance. Seen from above they may describe a pitched roofline with a center spine. Or the halved square of the roofline may transfigure its symbolism into an open book, changing the scale instantaneously.

"Blue Luna" and "Addition VIII" are two such paintings. The little markings and scribblings that are organized around the perimeters of the box reference alphabetical notes as well as vegetation. These notes may be conceived as the released text of the exposed and emptied pages. Such an image acknowledges the thorough and expending process of teaching, with each word of the pages' information broadcast into the air until the source is an exhausted, glowing void.

"Interlude", too, is configured like a book. It refers to the same structure found in Bowring's landscapes. Like two illustrations of core samples in a scientific journal, "Interlude" is a scrapbook of time that repeats itself in a compressed narrative of substrata relating time to memory as though telling of subsequent seasons of drought and plenty.

"Traverse" and "Checkmate" are the two large landscape pieces. Because of their vertical orientation, they suggest a vista seen through a window rather than a landscape regarded outdoors. Their sense of distance is protracted, like Saul Steinberg adding Moscow to the horizon of his famous selectively inclusive view of the world from New York City. But these paintings should also be seen not as distance but as depth, canyon walls evidencing fossilized detritus from the past. The bits of vine that tangle and weave playfully through these works call to mind the old Native American adage or practice of laying the branches down over one's path to slip away undetected. These two scenes are private creative territory without specific locale — without the square box that is more specifically a place, a home base. Intimately textural and indistinct at once, they are simultaneously both far away and nearby.

Bowring's color range in these paintings is surprisingly narrow: she uses the colors of the beginning or end of the day when the low sun tessellates every surface into rich warm coppers and verdigris. But the early or late hour of the light, like every other aspect of the work is made illusive; it is another one of the propositions to be resolved by the viewer in personal translation of this autobiographical work.

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