ESCONDIDO — Claire Klarewicz-Okser paints well, so well that her large canvases of women in domestic interiors have the physical presence of three-dimensional, theatrical tableaux. An occasional distortion--an elongated arm, a skewed foreshortening--immediately calls the eye's attention back to the surface, but for the most part, Okser has endowed her characters with a hauntingly real solidity.
The show, "Intimate Places," at Escondido's Center for the Arts, features a large group of Okser's work over the past 10 years. Most of the paintings portray women in groups of two or three, in spare domestic settings. They ponder, wait and stare in a timeless, meditative silence. These are not just the intimate places of their homes--Okser wants to show us the intimate places in their hearts and souls.
Most of the time, she succeeds. Whether tense or subdued, her women seem ripe with emotion, especially in contrast to their stark, chillingly empty environments. By working in a large scale, New York-based Okser gives her characters a nearly life-size presence, and her luminous oil glazes make those figures breathe. Their skin exudes a pale, alabaster purity and their eyes are often deep and mellow. Pearl buttons on their dresses gleam. In one image, a woman wears a backless dress, and her slightly protruding spine creates a bony ridge down her back. Okser's attention to such details makes her women convincingly human.
They are individuals, with unique traumas and triumphs. Despite their crisp depiction, however, their circumstances are left suggestively vague.
In two images, both titled "The Return," Okser seems to present a veiled but stoically mourning mother consoling her grief-stricken daughter. In "The Matter at Hand," the most impressive and absorbing work in the show, Okser paints a scene from a family saga. Five women sit on bentwood chairs around a simple, bare table, before a radiant gold wall. One woman, in black, appears to be the mother of the other four. Her eyes shoot a non-focused stare beyond the others, while she absently fingers her wedding ring. The other women wear expressions ranging from melancholy to eagerness and resolution. In the background, a man stands alone, staring out a window.
Something is being decided here, amid this crisscrossing web of gazes, but Okser cunningly illustrates what seems to be the climactic page of a novel without giving us the benefit of the preceding narrative. The result is a monumental study of human emotion, mysterious yet deeply moving.
Okser focuses repeatedly on the quiet moments of a drama, the interludes when bleak truths are sinking in visibly on characters' faces. The women in her paintings do little else but absorb the weight of their undisclosed predicaments. A mother and daughter sit together affectionately in one image, less so in another. In both, physical resemblance across the generations exposes the genetic links between these women, while their expressions give hints of more tenuous bonds. Alienation and ennui color many of the relationships.
Because the women in Okser's paintings wear dresses and sometimes hats of an outdated stylishness, the sense of time in these works feels ambiguous, stilled. Thematically, they fit somewhere on the spectrum between 19th-Century French Intimist interiors that hint at both pleasure and disaffection at home, and the contemporary, large-scale color photographs of Tina Barney, which give glimpses into the private domain of Barney's own upper-middle-class family.
With the exception of a wall of flat and clumsy gouaches and the occasional stiff and overly ambitious painting, Okser's work has great poignancy. The intense gazes of characters within the paintings are deserving of equally intense scrutiny from without.
* \o7 Center for the Arts, 247 S. Kalmia St., Escondido, through Jan.2. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday\f7 .\o7 .
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Quint Krichman Projects has forged an unusual collaboration with the Rosa Esman Gallery in New York. Beginning in January, the New York gallery will host a series of solo exhibitions of artists who have had participated in Quint Krichman's local residency program. The series will include shows by Julius, Eric Snell, Mauro Staccioli, Mikolaj Smoczynski and Jan van Munster. San Diegan Manny Farber, who is also represented by Quint Krichman, will also show at Rosa Esman. . . .
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