In "The Cutting Bridle" Exhibit, Allison Rathan Shows a Keen Literary Sense
The Exchange by Allison Rathan has a mythic quality
Photo courtesy of the artist and Archway Gallery
The dominant picture in "The Cutting Bridle" exhibition, The Exchange, 60x48", is a self-portrait of the artist Allison Rathan, striding behind a very large wolf, the animal on a metal leash, in a dark-green forest under a crescent moon. It captures the confidence of this artist, who has blond movie star looks and the poise and litheness of a fashion model.
This painting has an air of ambiguity, and might be a book cover for an exciting combination of medieval myth and sci-fi ruminations. There is another figure in the lower left hand corner, which looks like a serpent whose head is the desert-bleached skull of a steer. Ponder away, if you wish, looking for significance, but I prefer just to savor the mystery.
The leash holder has a slit skirt that exposes a graceful leg, and her left hand is lightly cupping her left breast, a reminder that we are living in a world where sensuality, like it or not, rules. This theme runs throughout much of the other art as well.
Rathan has a keen literary sense, and some of her art is inspired by literary reference points. "I've Come Home Now" echoes the dark power of Wuthering Heights, as a man inside a castle embraces a woman through an open window. We never see their faces, but his hand on her back is sufficient to indicate the intense physical passion to come.
I liked even better That Night, a more complex picture which at first glance could be showing a pole dancer, judging by the stance, but closer inspection reveals that she is wearing cut-off jeans and a tawny shirt, and is in front of chain link fence, with the shadow of the chains reflected on her clothing, and even her skin. Sensuality may rule, but one pays a price.
The paintings have literary quotations posted under the tiles, and one can't help but admire an artist who for this painting quotes Aeschylus, from The Oresteia: 'We are the children of eternal night/And furies in the underworld are called." The face of the protagonist is not shown, but her back reveals intensity, power, danger - and perhaps fear of being encaged. Or, more likely, she is.
Elsewhere in the gallery is a rusty white bird cage, empty, with the door open, so escape is possible.
Reinless has another provocative beauty on a horse, her skirt flying back. In "Siren", we again see no face, but see a female runner pausing next to an exercise track, leaning all the way over for stretching on a support. Her back is toward us, with the pose making her butt loom large as the dominant image. This is very much a painting issuing a challenge; I mentally re-named it "In Your Face".
The absence of faces is not a flaw, as the physical stance provides all we need to know, and the absence may help the viewer to imagine herself in the painting's situation. Rathan also has a series of small portraits of heads - yes, we see the faces here - and I liked enormously one titled "Foundling" which has the look of a very young dark-haired beauty-to-come, whose haunting expression indicates resignation, anticipation, and hidden power.
Karenina by Allison Rathan references the Tolstoy novel
Photo courtesy of the artist and Archway Gallery
Karenina is large, 40x40", and contrasts at the left a steam engine crossing a trestle, while at the right we see the left side of the huge head of a striking beauty. It is inspired by the novel by Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, considered by some the greatest novel ever written. I found it to be graphically interesting, and, were it not for the title, I would take it to be a depiction of a traditional source of energy vs. the celebrity-fueled fascination that drives us today.
I found some paintings to be missing subtlety, such as The Way to Kilimanjaro, inspired by Hemingway's famous short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, It is a well-drawn and interesting visual, but one which fails to fuse into relevance, with too many explicit symbols. I found least effective Man Standing on a Broken Pier, as a man with a pipe seems to be musing. The figure is posed, the energy missing, and highlighting the man with a lighter background too obvious. Rathan here has thrown composition to the winds, with the man centered in the picture. The painting reminded me of a college sophomore who has discovered philosophy, Plato, and a pipe, all in one week.
Curiously, I liked best,and became most involved with, a very different kind of painting style for Rathan, one titled The Red Balloon inspired by the 1956 award-winning short French film. There are two balloons in the foreground, and two young boys, but the heart of the painting is a depiction of a charming village street that extends well into the distance, with the eye carried there by warm architecture and attractive balconies, and shops that might be interesting. It is a most welcome vista; I suggest viewing this up close and from afar, both will delight.
Allison Rathan: The Cutting Bridle continues through September 4, Archway Gallery, 2305 Dunlavy, open Mondays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m., 713-522-2409, archwaygallery.com.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events