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No More Girlish Games

At once epic, endearing and bloody, Randolph's portrayals of women out-of-bounds give fleshy substance to life's antagonisms and mayhem. As if timelessly suspended in strange, dreamlike states, their solid bodies and implied consciousnesses seem governed by intimate memories and primal instincts. In Sky Walker: Biding Thru, a nude woman with black wavy hair and tan skin strides between two planetary orbs, pushing aside meteors or anything else that might get in her way. Her strong, don't-mess-with-me-and-I-won't-mess-with-you stance summons forth the cartoon warrior She-Ra, Princess of Power. In any case, she fairly leaps out of the canvas into the viewer's space, her eyes locking onto ours much like a lioness stalking her prey.

Moreover, at a time when ideologies are collapsing, technology continues to develop exponentially and biological research brings into question just what it means to be human, the distrust of the purely personal and the securely social become acute. Accordingly, Randolph implies that technology has become part of nature, and that women had better start using technology before technology starts using them. Self-Consortium features a beautiful young woman and her cloned android moving through inner and outer space by means of a large, serpentine strand of DNA. Will cyberspace become another area that will have to be gender negotiated at the end of the century?

Randolph's women are unapologetic in urging us to negotiate obstacles that will create a more mutable, elastic reality. For now, however, these women are caught between some dark space and a projected utopia. But where will they go, what will they do after breaking through? And who is the future? Could it be Barbarella with biceps?

If Randolph envisions a kind of paradise, but with street smarts, O'Grady, Alexander and Patterson confront the relentlessly bizarre moments of ordinary life. Moving from hauntingly personal narratives of childhood experience to adolescence and adult repression, their implicit theme is the hard drop from bliss to tainted disillusionment. Of the three artists' works, O'Grady's Five Names for Breasts is the most confrontational, for in these paintings innocence is already pretty clearly on the skids.

Single images of adolescent girls have been stripped nude and sliced off at the abdomen, then seemingly set adrift in milky seas, places both nowhere and anywhere. A strong sense of the psychological infuses these paintings, in which the pre-teen girls appear emotionally vulnerable and yet incredibly empowering.

O'Grady's paintings suggest an admixture of generic bodily consciousness and intimate sensuality. This dismemberment of the body by naming -- boobs, hooters, melons, pistols, jugs -- and the disconnection it engenders unfortunately begin at the earliest stages of female identity. Can interrupted innocence alter the future terms of intimate personal interaction? Given half the chance, these truncated figures would probably act out their girl-type ambivalence by spitting right in our eye.

Conversely, Patterson foregoes attitudinizing in favor of off-balance scenarios in which natural reality clashes with the ridiculous, often nightmarish simplemindedness of our most basic assumptions about society. Patterson's odd vignettes don't follow a linear narrative, but instead summon the larger lexicon of life. Her characters are like members of some extended dysfunctional family -- many of them seem to be plucked right out of the National Enquirer. Patterson mines nostalgia with a knowing eye on the erotic edge of childhood innocence and adult dilemmas.

Her works linger somewhere between bright fantasy and the darkness of a nightmare vision -- a magnificent blue carousel horse goes suddenly wild as a small girl hangs on for dear life, a Cinderella clad in white robes grapples with her pumpkin "head," formerly friendly acquaintances quickly turn into ominous strangers. Patterson treats her cast of characters as specimens -- the angelic grandmother, the muscled waitress, the eccentric woman dressed in floral kimono and headdress, the obnoxious bride that looks like an inflatable doll. Each has her own story to tell, which could be pleasant, or could be shocking. Either way, Patterson's array of weird curiosities often present women playing out roles -- perhaps happily, perhaps without choice, perhaps without a clear picture of their own situation.

That fusion of edgy uncertainty and anxiety with a firm certitude is also the core of Alexander's buoyant colored-pencil drawings. Alexander obsessively fills up almost every inch of paper with an onslaught of images -- cartoonish eyes, flailing, groping, helping hands -- and stylized patterns of interdependent abstract shapes. Such expressiveness often verges on the hallucinogenic; it grapples with intimate memories, visions and the unknowable. In any case, it doesn't affirm the status quo, but suggests an urgent need to draw an alternate world explored over time. Not a wild or crazy style, Alexander's vision is highly ordered, often symmetrical and full of implied movement. I Dropped Grandma's Pie depicts pieces of meringue with extended arms floating on a pink ground. Moreover, works composed wholly of skittering spiders suggest a terrible purity to Alexander's vision, an effect of selfless concentration on an unfolding narrative that is not under her control, although perhaps fueled by her passions.

Much of the time, however, one gets the feeling that Alexander's visions of nude girls and boys sitting at pinwheel-like "posey" tables, or diagonal rows of black balls hurling toward an exotic female dancer, are less finished products than records of explorations. Polymorphously perverse and sweet, they seem to come from the hand of a child still too naive to disguise the depths of her own aggression. Whether approximating reality or imagination, these associations stimulate our own contemplations on the relative nature of past and present, instinct and memory. Like richly patterned board games, Alexander's visions enable us to travel through a land of monsters, wild beasts and fairy-tale creatures, the sort of pictorial images that stay with a child, yet pop up in one's dreams.

"Virgins in Vertigo and Juicy Women," paintings by Lynn Randolph, will show through April 1 at Lynn Goode Gallery, 2719 Colquitt, 526-5966.

Group exhibit by Kim O'Grady, Wanda Alexander and Holly Patterson will show through March 18 at West End Gallery, 5425 Blossom, 861-9544.

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