Artist makes commonplace pretty scary


Susan Waters-Eller's drawings and paintings of "Modern Environments" (the title of her show at Towson State University) are almost totally unpeopled and eerily quiet, but they are as full of potential as most of them are empty of action. They let us know, without actually telling us, that they're about alienation and violence, the hurtling speed of life, rampant consumerism, trashing of the environment and police state terrorism.

But in most cases in these pictures, nothing's happening; it's just about to. Waters-Eller's typical image lives in that ominous .. moment of fear-filled calm just before the worst arrives. Or rather just before we ar- rive at the worst, for often the artist puts the viewer at the wheel of a car or in a similar situation that he seemingly controls but actually doesn't. In that way these pictures are like nightmares, for we all create our own nightmares, though not out of choice.

In "Image" (1992) the viewer drives a car into a multi-story parking lot -- an everyday activity, but everything's threatening: the long tunnel ahead, the parking lot building looming up so brutally, and especially the faces that vaguely appear on the walls. Are they faces of ghosts, faces of the past, faces we don't recognize immediately but will soon enough?

The show is something of a retrospective, since it covers the last 15 years, and while it shows Waters-Eller's style maturing, her themes change more noticeably. In earlier years most of these pictures reflected personal psychological concerns such as loneliness, confusion and fear of the unknown. In "Merging," the driver is about to merge with the unseen at what looks like high speed. This is a metaphor for life, for we all rush into the unknown of the future faster than we know.

More recently, beginning in the late 1980s, the work takes on socio-political issues. "Upscale" (1986), with a shopping mall sporting at its entrance an immensely overscaled and hideous automobile hood ornament, deals with consumption of kitsch and schlock. "Support" (1988), with its shooting provoked by a trivial incident, indicts violence. "Holding" (1992), in which the viewer is trapped in a cage surrounded by television sets, deals with the cacophony of media imagery.

"Upwind" and "Upstream" (both 1995), in both of which industry and the man-made have virtually obliterated the natural world, is about de- struction of the environment.

And the artist's most ambitious effort here, the 6-by-6-foot diptych "Enter Fortress America" (1995), deals with the fortress mentality of urban life that induces us to embrace a police state and give up our freedoms in the futile search for order at all costs.


Where: Holtzman Gallery, Fine Arts Building, Towson State University.

When: 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Sundays; through July 29.

Call: (410) 830-2787.

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