Sharon Kopriva: Illuminations Offers an Arboretum Pulsing With Life

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"God may be everywhere" says artist Sharon Kopriva, "But God talks to me in the woods." Kopriva has a summer home in the mountain forests of northern Idaho, and Kopriva's spiritual and artistic journey has been strongly influenced by these surroundings. This is very much in evidence in her solo show at the Deborah Colton Gallery, as forest scenes frame cathedral windows in several paintings, and the Gallery assumes elements of an arboretum.

This is an arboretum pulsing with life, as Kopriva's paintings have evolved into sculpture, incorporating leaves and moss, twigs, branches, enriching the texture and welcoming us into the mysteries of nature. "Cathedral Green" dominates the gallery, both with its size (81x126x2.5") and its power, as the forest threatens to overwhelm us, intimidate us, but we gain hope as light cascades through a cathedral window with its Gothic arch.

A viewer would expect that the triumphant power of this large work would diminish the impact of "Forest Window", a smaller version (60x44x6"), but this work involves us deeply because the light is even more entrancing.

"Gothic Green" uses the arching of tree branches to form the shape of an invisible cathedral window, and the light here again seduces us into its warm and encouraging embrace. The smaller "Spirit Tree" has a truly massive trunk, and is reminiscent of The Tree of Souls in the film Avatar.

"Emancipation of the Topiaries" is a dreamlike work, referencing the works of Hieronymus Bosch, as monstrous apparitions feed - perhaps this is the evil side of the forest primeval, as doglike creatures of the night escape their chains.

There are a number of self-portraits, a new arena for Kopriva, and I sense these are experiments, as she is feeling her way. But there is a self-portrait sculpture of her, titled "Taking Flight", half woman and half broomstick, that is powerful and witty, and the work of a master confidently in control.

In her spiritual journey, the new group of cathedral-like forest scenes is called "Verde" and she identifies an earlier phase of work as "Terra" where browns rather than greens propagate. The works here are equally powerful, illustrated by three wall sculptures I think of as the "canoe" series; the sculptures are of figures nestled - or imprisoned - in spaces like a dugout. One, in the Menil collection, is titled "Joan of Arc" as a young woman, in torture, clings to a cross as she struggles above a network of faggots and kindling wood.

Two others are titled "Vessels". One has a man with a broad oar, clutching a cross, confined to a dugout, but escape by paddling is not possible, as branches have pinned both man and oar to their destiny. The third has another man also clutching a cross, with the wrap-around dugout almost a shroud; this sculpture is perched on a ladder. All three are somber, and their implicit passion indicates how deeply the Catholic faith has etched itself into Kodiva's psyche.

The Gallery is also showing the works of Linda Hofheinz, which are colorful and exciting. There are two large companion works, "Birdsong I" and "Birdsong II", each 54x40", with a female dancer in one and a male dancer in the other. They are dressed in Asiatic garments, and have physical beauty and terpsichorean energy. Decorative, indeed yes, but rising to the level of art. Hofheinz has a wicked sense of humor, and I especially liked "In Dreams I Soar", as a man gazes ahead with steady intensity, with the back of his head feathered, to allow his imagination to take flight.

Sharon Kopriva: Illuminations continues through June 26, Deborah Colton Gallery, 2445 North Boulevard, open 11 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday, For information call 713-869-5151 or visit deborahcoltongallery.com.

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