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Zolotnitskys blend humor and grimness, go figure


Elena and Genady Zolotnitsky are two painters married to one another but not in their art. Each makes his/her own works of art, and their two-person show at Galerie Francoise demonstrates that while there are similarities between them there are also differences.

The immediately recognizable similarities are their highly colored palettes and their technical ability. Natives of Moscow who graduated from art colleges there but who now live in this area, they are obviously strongly grounded in their discipline. They show every sign of coming out of a figurative tradition, and they both use it in fanciful ways, but quite differently.

In fact, Elena Zolotnitsky's five paintings here fall into two distinct categories. Three of them are canvases with exaggerated, cartoonlike characters in genre situations. "Peasants Dancing" inevitably reminds one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Peasant Dance," but in its crowding of the scene with figures it's even more reminiscent of the same artist's "The Wedding Dance in the Open Air." This and the other two works in this vein, "Bohemia" and "The Cats" contain humor, but there is a kind of sinister, almost grotesque air about them as well.

The artist's other two paintings here are much more realistic in rendering -- in fact their big solid female figures constitute a parody of Soviet realism -- but they also contain symbolism and a somewhat surreal incongruity. In "The Island: Red Lesbos," women string up mermen by the eyes to a pole, so they hang above the ground. The image would be horrible but for the humor of it.

In "Lunch," four women sit at a table as two others, a maid and a cook, perform domestic tasks. But a man's clothes are draped over one of the chairs; Zolotnitsky tells us that the women are actually about to have the man served to them for lunch, but I don't think the viewer would understand that if it weren't explained. If this were a feminist painting one would wonder why the servants are women; but Zolotnitsky tells us it is a comment upon American culture in which "everything is allowed and nothing is punished." We may not get all of Zolotnitsky's meaning when she paints in this vein, but she's much more interesting in these two than in her other three works.

In Genady Zolotnitsky's paintings, robot-like creatures, sometimes only partial or dismembered bodies, float in indeterminate spaces where they look at home with bits and pieces of what might be mechanical parts or other industrially produced materials. Only now and then we have a throwback -- at one spot in "Viennese" the bits and pieces appear to form themselves into a series of Roman numerals.

The point here appears to be that the machines man has made to serve him have succeeded in making him as mechanized and dehumanized as they are; it may also be that what's left of the human, non-mechanical part of the equation is now as archaic as Roman numerals.

It's not a new point and, except with the effectively grim painting called "Untitled," Zolotnitsky makes it in an almost lighthearted way. What's mostly missing here, despite the artist's considerable talents, is enough variety either of message or of visual image.


What: Two-person exhibit

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads.

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 31.

Call: (410) 337-2787.

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