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Secret Signs: Paintings and Collaborative Works by Julie Benoit and Cara Ober

Julie Benoit's "He Said His Name Was John Deere"

By Ned Oldham | Posted 2/25/2004

Secret Signs: Paintings and Collaborative Works by Julie Benoit and Cara Ober

At the G-Spot through March 13

Julie Benoit's large and mostly pink paintings grow conceptually from a series of prints loosely based on floor plans, which she exhibited two years ago at Mission Space. For these new works, Benoit has evolved a broader point of view, sometimes taking in whole blocks or more.

Each painting has the inexact geometry of urban grids. Primitive forms--bottles, eggs (or heads), dolmens, stitches, shirts hanging on a line, stairways--inhabit her shifting roseate landscapes. The point of view is vertical or horizontal, or both; for example, in "All I Saw Was the Back of Your Head," a meandering line could be a stream seen from above or a ridge in profile. The objects, their outlines fading against the ethereally modeled pastel pink background, seem to relate to each other and themselves in unrefined--insect- or mollusklike--ways. A cluster of circles resembles tops of heads as seen from above, herdlike crowds waiting to cross avenues or bridges, or perhaps observing some spectacle. Vaguely phallic loitering dolmen gangs could be wharves or the blunt noses of tugboats in a pink fog.

Her best paintings, among them the impressive "I Told You Everything I Could" and the green-yellowish "And I Counted All of the Days," have an expansive, almost tapestrylike balance of action, a collection of oblivious coincidences inhabiting the purgatories of these hazy labyrinths.

Cara Ober employs a wider range of color than Benoit, most strikingly in a group of three purely abstract and implosive pieces called "Italian Postcards #1-#3," plus one larger painting in the same aggressive, stratified expressionistic style, with jagged slashes of bright contrasting color wedged into the rectangles of the canvases.

Ober's other paintings are large, churning fields of rich color that almost batter the diagrammatic objects: count-offs and status bars, equation-driven looping trajectories, atoms and chemical molecules. The chaotic backdrops--in a wide range of color palettes, from the stormy midnight blues of "I Was not Even Born Yet" to the explosive vermilions of "This Painting Makes Me Want to Divorce My Wife, Quit My Job, Etc."--lash out at these painterly diagrams that stand in relationship to one another like components of energetically proposed and daring but untested--perhaps untestable--equations.

The two artists collaborated on five canvases, which hew to the floor-plan approach but with a sense of warmth and immediacy that brings into focus the humanity that is obscured in Benoit's paintings, while encroaching in Ober's. Spring greens and blues, brighter pinks and yellows, a denlike enclosure of the space, a birthday cake, a dovelike bird--less threatening than the noncollaborative pieces, but perhaps more in the spirit of the Valentine's holiday.

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