Both the sculptures of Karen Acker and the paintings of Emilio Cruz are based on the human figure and use somewhat unusual combinations of materials, and that's only the beginning of what they have in common.
Cruz begins with long, narrow white birch panels which he covers with a layer of gesso. On this he then draws the human figure in charcoal and covers it with a layer of beeswax, into which he cuts deep lines to create additional drawing. Finally he adds paint.
Acker combines porcelain, steel and sometimes wood into sculptures which also have reference to the human body.
Both of these artists' works involve a certain degree of reversal of the norm, suggesting ironies of human existence.
What Cruz "draws" into the beeswax on top of his charcoal drawing is the pattern of the vertebrae that make up the human backbone. He thus brings what's inside outside and partially veils or hides the exterior of the human body under layers of wax and sometimes paint. The heads of these figures, however, stand out clear and strong, expressing subtly various human characteristics and states of mind: apprehension, pride, vanity, insight, rectitude.
The implication here is that the human, the only being so far as we know to comprehend death, seeks immortality through the mind. But the body, through death, destroys the mind and
remains capable of survival at least for a time without it. Dem bones will stick around long after the mind, which is supposed to give the whole thing meaning, has vanished. Cruz states that his works "attempt to capture states of existence that dramatize various essences of the human experience." But the essential truth of this series, collectively called "Homo sapiens," is that of the vanity of human ambitions.
The making of Acker's fascinating sculptures involves a reversal because clay is the softest, most malleable of her materials to begin with but becomes the hardest and most brittle, whereas steel and wood each retain a certain ability to be bent and shaped.
And like the porcelain in them, Acker's figures suggest (at least in company with Cruz's) that ideas of human individuality and mutability are myths.
"Consensus" has three heads, supported on a metal structure, bent over as if in deep thought. But the title reveals that the outcome of all this thought is a foregone conclusion. In "Waiting" a head hovers above its body as if the two are waiting to be joined in life. But they will go on waiting forever; like the characters in "Waiting for Godot," they exist in a permanent limbo waiting for a meaning that will never come. "Again" presents a row of creatures with bird-like heads, each of which thinks itself to be unique; but save for minor variations they are all exactly alike. "Compression" is a human figure attached to a grid as securely as we are to the routine of our daily lives.
It should be added that the works of either of these artists in the company of someone else might engender different thoughts, but here they are in each other's company and it was an inspiration to put them together. It should also be added that they share one more thing -- they are beautifully made.
What: Karen Acker and Emilio Cruz
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 Oct. 30
Call: (410) 337-2787