The Girls In Paula Rubino's 'Cerulean' Show at Scape Gallery Look Like They'd Rather Be Reading

The Fairy Godmother Never Came
Paula Rubino’s girls would rather be reading

 

Paula Rubino’s “Cerulean” show is a grim but lovely thing, offering up memorable, melancholy scenes of feminine discontent and a few landscapes that look like great places for a heartbroken girl to get lost in.

Rubino’s women have a collegiate wistfulness, as if they’ve been captured while killing time between classes they couldn’t care less about. The Understudies are the lost souls who drift around the theater department, hoping to get a speaking part and thus give their quiet lives that little jolt of drama. The women in the painting are dressed in vaguely Shakespearean duds, with high waists and headdresses of folded cloth, but these are nobody’s Juliets. They are the sorrily neglected ladies in waiting, fit to swell the progress of a scene or two before the curtain falls and they head home to watch TV and share a carton of low-fat yogurt with the cat. In another canvas, the aptly named Wallflowers, Rubino plucks two of the girls from The Understudies and focuses on them. The poor creatures gaze at us warily, obviously not ready for their closeup.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow takes us backstage to meet a different crew of walking shadows, two girls in fancy, billowing dresses and two girls in baggy leotards, all of them waiting for a cue that looks like it may never come. One of the striking things about Rubino’s work is how her girls can huddle together without seeming particularly close. Two of the ladies of Tomorrow sit alone, and the other two look as if they’ve just met and are perhaps sharing a brief moment of commiseration. Or maybe they’re just gossiping about the other two. In any case, there’s nothing to suggest they’ve met before or that they’ll still have anything to talk about five minutes from now.

When Rubino’s women do seem like they have a shared history, it’s not necessarily a good thing. The duo in Awkward Hello With Departed Days look at you with scarcely disguised distaste, as if you’re the last person in the world they’d ever want to see. Perhaps you were friends once, but that was a long time ago. Did you simply drift apart? No, you’ve clearly wronged them somehow. Just looking at these two makes you feel sad and guilty. Awkward is the word, all right.

These women aren’t tomboys or outdoorsy types at all; they are pale and rather sickly looking, like the most exercise they ever get is when they run home to weep into their pillows. There are a few paintings of the poor dears looking sour in swimsuits, as if they’d rather be home reading a book. Even when Rubino takes us outdoors, we find ourselves in wintry scenes with nobody else around. The wind is cold, and the lake is still. Her landscapes look like the kind of places where small-town kids go for long walks when they want to get away from it all.

Of all the work here, Whom Will the Glass Slipper Fit is the most compelling. Two gawky girls in black tights and loose skirts stand together in a little park and gaze cattily at a third girl who sits on the grass wearing dowdy clothes. Presumably, this is intended to be a scene from Cinderella, but somehow, I don’t think we’re seeing the two “ugly stepsisters” sneering at the downtrodden leading lady. This looks more like a moment that’s usually rushed through near the end of the story, when the prince is roaming the land trying to find that one lucky girl who fits the glass slipper Cinderella left behind at the ball, and all the fawning bachelorettes line up to try to cram their feet into a shoe made for somebody else. The three girls in this picture would appear to be some of the aspiring Princess Charmings left by the side of the road at the tale’s end, gazing enviously at Cinderella’s luxurious, pumpkin-shaped coach as it rolls by on its way to the prince’s big castle. Every morning, they’ll wake up, see that damn castle glimmering on the mountain and know that Cinderella is up there enjoying the happy ending that could’ve been theirs, if they only had had a goddamn fairy godmother.

Every happy ending, after all, is an unhappy ending for somebody else.

 

Paula Rubino’s “Cerulean” at Scape, 2859 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 723-3406; www.scapesite.com. Open Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Oct. 18.

 
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