Because She's Wearing a Dress, That's How

Awakenings is Lewis Carroll minus the mescaline


There is a certain dream-like cast to the works of Patrick Maisano. His paintings, now on view at Space on Spurgeon under the collective title "Awakenings," are the soft-focus photo album of the young and the restful. Odd groupings of the human and the humanesque crowd into frame and peer at the viewer through huge, soulful eyes, and through these we are drawn into the mysterious scenes, each a Through the Looking-Glass minus the mescaline. Remember the time we all turned blue and broke bread with the homunculus and that two-headed dog/bird? I don't either, but here's me with a ram, a dove and an anthropomorphic horse with both eyes on the same side of her head like a flounder. Because she's wearing a dress, that's how.

Maisano, per his artist statement, professes that his pieces "begin without a preconceived subject," with forms suggesting themselves only through gradations of bright and dark until "deliberately developed into the imagery of the painting." Most of said imagery—the long, shapeless tunics and mustache-free beards, the chimeras with human faces and beastly bodies (and vice versa)—imply a quasi-religious solemnity, like Pennsylvania Dutch by way of mythological Greece. But to the artist's credit, Maisano's work comes across as neither relentlessly precious nor wholly fantastical, thus saving him from relegation to the Neverending Story dumpster.

To create his most involving pieces, Maisano adds another layer to his already rich textures. Prior to painting, he projects text onto the canvas and fills in the lettering with what looks like several coats of Liquid Paper. While the thematic relationship between text and finished piece appears tangential at best, words do tend to leap out and underscore the visuals. In Learning to Fly(2005), a particularly cartoonish piece in which a sparrow supervises young bears on the wing, the text concerns a child's first brush with art (or art with brush, as the case may be). Elsewhere, the effect proves more humorous than cutesy: Television (2005) contains lines from a newspaper blurb describing a business deal between network and syndicator, overlaying Maisano's familiar figures in a black-and-white group pose, his version of the non-photos in TheWall Street Journal.

Another of Maisano's techniques is to reproduce the contents of one piece in another, but with certain distinct differences. These are not copies per se, in that the approximation is rough, but the arrangement of the scene leaves no doubt that certain pieces are of a pair. While Odyssey (2004) appears as a collection of color snapshots from some creature's elaborate and taxing journey, its analog, Stars Like Oprah (2005), shows similar images in a bluish monochrome. Thus Feast (2004), the much smaller, sepia-toned twin of Feast (1998).

"AWAKENINGS" AT SPACE ON SPURGEON, 210 N. SPURGEON ST., SANTA ANA, (949) 464-0105; WWW.SPACEONSPURGEON.COM. SAT.-SUN., 1-4 P.M.; FIRST SAT. OF THE MONTH, 7-9 P.M.; OR BY APPOINTMENT. CONTINUES INDEFINITELY.

 
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