Sylvia Glass' fetishistic paintings on cloth are concerned with recapturing the ritual and magic associated with ancestral objects. Drawing upon prehistoric cave painting, illuminated manuscripts, ancient shrouds and burial garments, as well as the contemporary archetypal symbolism of DeLoss McGraw, Glass' latest series is called "Life Energy--Reverence and Ritual." It features her usual animal imagery, amorphous topographical surfaces and a vibrant palette in acrylic and pastel ranging from somber ochers and richly hued primaries to iridescents.
Much like the visceral dramas of Leonard Koscianski, Glass attempts to encompass universal human emotions and life forces through primitive animal symbolism. Bison, wolves, deer and birds are the actors in political scenarios where themes of life and death, the harmony of the collective unconscious and rigorous isolation are acted out through an ambiguous mixture of light and shadow, positive energy and raw violence. Glass weathers the surface of the fabric by using alcohol and lacquer "resists," burning, tearing and restitching it so that each painting takes on the appearance of an ancient relic, exuding archetypal essences rather than clearly defined manifestations of the modern ego.
The problem with such a strategy is that the work ends up blindly aping the past without questioning its aesthetic parameters. Symbols, hierarchies and metaphors had completely different functions and meanings in primitive and medieval societies than they do now. By attempting to reintegrate such questionable vocabularies into a statement of continuity and inheritance, Glass ignores semantic and critical developments that have drained these aesthetics of their mystique. Rather than analyze this aura and its sociopolitical ramifications, she merely tries to perpetuate it through arbitrary simile. Her work thus tries to be what it isn't, remaking the present in the image of the past and passing off the false rhetoric of the shaman as self-evident truth. (Simard/Halm, 8006 Melrose Ave., to March 29.)