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Second Nature

At the Gomez Gallery, Soledad Salame Takes Her Eco-Themed Work into a Whole New Dimension

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 12/4/2002

Soledad Salame

Soledad Salame

Gomez Gallery through Dec. 21

Ecological themes are by now second nature for Soledad Salame, but the creative evolution of the Chilean-born Baltimore artist is by no means finished. Increasingly she supplements her mixed-media paintings and prints with sculptural installations, and, as her Gomez Gallery exhibit attests, the darkly organic look of her artwork is giving way to a literally lighter appearance. Light-suffused quartz crystals, translucent resin panels, and semi-abstracted paintings are among the eco ingredients in a quietly terrific show.

"The work is about silence, hearing nature and nothing else. It has a meditative quality," Salame says as she walks among her paintings, which would possess a milky white glow even if they weren't under the gallery lights.

On a technical level, the flowing and glowing surfaces are achieved by the layering of media, including watercolors, resin, glass microbubbles, graphite, and beeswax. On a thematic level, the artist sought comfort in nature in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, which in her case meant visiting the ruggedly beautiful lakes and waterfalls of southern Chile. The resulting paintings take that dramatic scenery and make it seem beautifully dreamy.

"Waterfall II" is typical of this artist's approach in that you can make out a waterfall, but this painting is hardly an example of straightforward naturalism. Instead, Salame conveys a feel for rushing water, fragments of landscape, and all-pervasive light, with the pictorial elements melting together.

You can distinguish mountains, water, and sky in the best painting in the show, "Lake Region," but a shimmering whiteness suffuses them all. The blended greens, blues, and whites overtly recall the 19th-century English painter J.M.W. Turner, who was a pioneer in demonstrating how the light illuminating a landscape can be so powerful as to take the entire picture to the brink of abstraction.

Salame's paintings and prints long have been characterized by densely layered natural references that stop short of gelling into conventional representation, but now she may be moving into new terrain with some of these lake district paintings. By her standards, "Blue Veil" verges on being a realistic picture of a waterfall. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does raise a potentially worrisome consideration. For all their layering, her paintings generally deal with how the media and the organic references play across the surface of the picture plane. You get a feel for nature but you don't see deep into any distant valleys. In "Blue Veil," there's a sense that perhaps the panoramic image is calling for more exploration of its pictorial depth.

The paintings are but one component of this show. Of particular interest are three untitled ink, wash, and watercolor paintings on vellum. They hang suspended from the ceiling like ornamental room dividers. The simple painted imagery features vertical and diagonal black tree trunks defining the surrounding whiteness so bluntly that the Abstract Expressionist painter Franz Kline comes to mind. However, the trunks support feathery branches whose near-calligraphic swirls are reminiscent of traditional Asian artists reducing nature to a few suggestive brushstrokes.

Besides all the natural references in these paintings and also in several exhibited prints, nature makes a direct appearance in two table-mounted and three hanging sculptures. They're mostly made from quartz crystals, but Salame has also included some man-made crystals, inside which she has embedded natural designs and nature-related textual fragments.

And hanging overhead throughout the gallery are 16 thin, crinkled sheets of honey-hued resin in which moths and branches are entombed. "Time Suspended" is the apt name she has given these preserved-in-amber-themed sheets. Look up, look around, and you'll see nature everywhere in this exhibit.

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