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Allyson Smith

At the Antreasian Gallery through June 28

"Partner Dance"

By Ruth Reader | Posted 6/27/2007

Falling From Grace: Allyson Smith

Antreasian Gallery through June 28

Artist Allyson Smith literally translates her life's daily complexities and joys onto canvas at her first Antreasian Gallery solo show. A self-proclaimed lesbian soccer mom, Smith attempts to reconcile her many selves in paintings that stretch beyond identity lines.

Four of the 11 paintings on display address gay marriage while incorporating traditional themes. As a common backdrop, Smith paints vintage-styled wallpaper studded with Rachel Ruysch-inspired flowers and conventional brides in gowns. If you look carefully, you'll notice a Vera Wang-styled dress; Smith plucked gowns out of wedding magazines for inspiration. In this sense Smith probes the duality of the modern gay lifestyle: To be gay is to be marginalized, but marriage is mainstream.

Her painting "Partner Dance" illustrates the familiar awkward courtship dance and the journey from matrimony to divorce; from marriage with a new partner to divorce again; and then remarriage to a previous partner. This particular dance mimics Smith's personal relationships. The theme of divorce and second marriage is a common occurrence for many Americans, but what is less common is rekindling a past relationship. Smith doesn't explore this theme, but the painting encourages you to ponder it.

Other wedding paintings are less thought provoking. "Wedding Dance" illustrates the married couple's traditional first dance. The painting glimpses two brides dancing in front of the familiar flowered vintage wallpaper. Also on the wallpaper are small-scale brides crawling and carrying heavy artillery. Smith created this painting as a rebuttal to the Bush administration's rejection of gay marriage: The brides are taking up arms to defend their right to civil unions. Though traditionally wallpaper is used as a backdrop, here it's the focus: You're inclined to consider the guerrilla brides and not the intertwined arms of the dancing couple.

Other offerings by Smith are more promising. "Drowning" is a painting of, in Smith's own words, "What teaching feels like." Smith teaches at the Baltimore Freedom Academy. Her painting shows a woman who has sunk to the bottom of an undetermined body of water where both sea plankton and freshwater bass reside. Beneath this watery scene is a stretch of cars depicted as a school of fish. While "Drowning" is an expression of Smith's frustration with teaching, it's a cool-looking scene. The giant bass, perhaps waiting to gulp up the drowning woman, is particularly engaging.

Two more paintings, very different from the rest, are worth mentioning. "The Kiss" and "Falling Women" are primitive in style and subject. "The Kiss" illustrates two naked women lying on their sides kissing. Her use of an oil pastel blue creates the drizzled effect of rain on a glass window; the scene is serene and uncomplicated. In "Falling Women," Smith depicts the titular subject using the same primitive strokes as in "The Kiss." Despite the title, the woman looks like she might either be falling or ascending, reaching for a black bar above her head. Both are interesting images achieved with simple concepts.

Smith's paintings follow familiar modern-life themes and she brings new relevancy to these subjects. While she admits many of her paintings are based on her personal life, she intentionally leaves her work somewhat ambiguous and up to interpretation. At the gallery opening for her show Smith mentioned that the bottom line of her work is to have fun. She hopes gallery-goers see that she looks at life lightheartedly despite its many twists and turns.

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