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Christine Sefolosha: Out of Darkness
Judy A. Saslow Gallery
This is the present day. We live in a modern world. All is clean. Sanitized. Convenient. We have unlimited access to up-to-the-minute technology. Bogies and spectres are superstitions of the past. They have no fear, no influence here, in our world of stainless steel and the glare of halogen lights. Or do they?
They still do, in the silence of night, in the darkness of our dreaming. Christine Sefolosha: Out of Darkness offers an accomplished, primitivistic vision of beasts and monsters, the half-blurred image of figures indistinct, whether in gloom or in dreaming. There is a flavor of midnight rendezvous, of dark-of-night at the crossroads in these works, in which swirling, murky backgrounds give way to indistinct outlines rising ghostly from the gloom. That many of her figures have wraithlike heads of deer or horses adds an impression of animistic force, at times malicious. Thirty of Sefolosha's spectral works in watercolor and other pigments are on exhibit.
Why deer? Why horses? Their roles as power-totems lies far back in the mists of time. In the caves of Lascaux, they are there: stags and shaggy ponies, along with bison and bulls, wild wellsprings of feral power to be propitiated by shamans and hunters. The stag-headed figure of Sefolosha's Twilight's Circle (watercolor and pigments on rice paper: 17-3/4 x 25 in.: 1998) has an immediate and potent lineage with a similar Lascaux figure painted by an unknown hand in the darkness of an underground chamber, an impossible 18,000 years ago. Likewise the portrait-silhouettes of works such as Growing Little Buck (oil and dirt on cardboard: 6-1/2 x 10 in.: 2006) and Horned Spirit (gouache and pigments on paper: 8-1/4 x 11-3/4 in.: 2003), whose figures rendered in full profile recollect the animal powers sought by the ancient painters. Like these primitive paintings executed in materials of burnt bone and ground earth, Sefolosha's paintings as well incorporate earthy materials, the artist working her visions in substances such as tar and dirt alongside the more common present-day media of ink and watercolor. Like them, her animals are totem animals, their forms drawn from nature, but distorted at will.
But the creatures such as those of Lascaux were never so knowing. In cave paintings, the animals in ghostly motion upon the limestone walls are beasts of the field, rampant with a natural power as they would be in their native valleys and plains; it is their innate life-force which invests them with spiritual potency, not any kind of personal awareness. That kind of awareness appears in Sefolosha's figures with the investment of human form or posture, the animal heads flowing into bodies partly human, neither man nor beast but somewhere painfully in between. And her nightmare figures admit of no propitiation. They could care less for any kind of appeasement; they seem little interested in bestowing favor, in fact, quite the opposite. That they bear a human or subhuman intelligence is evinced by the direct and penetrating stares, eyes bright with an unwanted attentiveness to human affairs. In several of these works, those knowing eyes transfix the viewer, who finds himself forced into the role of a spectator, suddenly and unwillingly having tumbled into some midnight rite he had best avoided, as in the approach of the two horse-headed duennas in No Man's Land Meeting (watercolor and pigments on rice paper: 11-3/4 x 16 in.: 1998)
Three general themes are found in this exhibition: individual portraits of a particular creature, or of an object of dark magic such as Bird Totem 1 (ink on rice paper: 33 x 18 in.: 2000); paintings such as Threesome (tar and ink on rice paper: 7-1/2 x 9-1/4 in.: 2005) in which the figures riot together, a bedlam of demonic intent; and groups of figures whose poses suggest ritual or hierarchy, even among spirits. The ghostly stag-man in Twilight's Circle is depicted half-bent, head raised to the dominant figure as if in obeisance or pleading; and even the individual animal portraits have tautly bent, submissive poses. Where the eyes are not bright and focused, they are drawn as empty eye sockets, the skull-like suggestion further moving these figures into the realm of shadow. At times, the spatial image is flat, two-dimensional; at other times, indistinct figures set deeper into the picture's space indicate a ghostly three-dimensional reality. Shamans are said to enter a trance state to visit the world of spirits. This, one can imagine, might very well be what they have seen.
Those terrors of animistic malice, those spectres of forces more, or less, than human, care not a jot for the bright halogen lights and gleaming chrome sterility of our modern illusions of safety. In the dark of night, even if only in the depths of our imagining, they wait for us. Christine Sefolosha finds expressiveness in suggestions of a primitive power, whose ancient roots have lost none of their force in the present day; one in which all our clever knowing seems only to have invested such forces and wild half-animals with a further malicious consciousness. Christine Sefolosha: Out of Darkness is at Judy Saslow Gallery through October 13, 2007. The artist's earthy, spectral imaginings are well worth a special trip.
Christine Sefolosha currently lives and works in Switzerland. Her work is included in numerous public and private collections, and was recently featured in a solo show at Halle St. Pierre, Paris, France, from May 14 - August 26, 2007. A catalogue from the exhibition, Sefolosha by Annie Carlano, is available at the gallery. Works by the artist are also available at the gallery upon request.
--Katherine R. Lieber