Beautiful banality 

Active Sedation: Paintings by Dara Engler
ALCHEMY art + aesthetics
Through July 28

It's a bird. It’s a plane. It’s. It’s a hair salon. And … an art gallery. ALCHEMY art + aesthetics, serving up hairdos and art in Fountain Square, is one of those increasingly common entities that combine purposes — or rather, offer a primary business and a sideline of exhibiting art: design studio-gallery, cafe-gallery, tattoo parlor-gallery and the like. In the case of ALCHEMY, the “art” is right up there with the hairstyling, and there’s an underlying philosophy to support the connection between the two.

The current exhibition, Active Sedation: Paintings by Dara Engler, attempts to get at the roots of inertia rather than provide a quick color job. Engler, originally from New Hampshire, explores through miniature and large-scale paintings the phenomenon of active hibernation. She writes, “We choose diversions that allow us to zone out and ignore things in the world that are difficult. I paint secluded, vacant, zombie-like figures that have relaxed in their habits until they have lost time.”

Rather than engaging in diversions, Engler’s figures have moved beyond it into realms of nothingness. Engler’s women — all of her figures are women — slump, slouch, hunch, lurch and nearly fall out of their chairs in a state of under-motivated hubris. They’re not even fully dressed; rather, they’re sloppily clad in undergarments that reveal too much — a cascading gut or flaccid love handles, for instance — and sport vacant, open-mouthed stares. You can almost see the drool.

Engler certainly has a point. There’s much to disturb in the world — whether from our personal experience or just the state of the world, or both. Alas, there is no superman (or superwoman) to rescue us from ourselves, or one another.

Engler’s figures hide out in wallpapered parlors, the patterned richness of a pair of tights or a pattern on the wall offering an easy antidote to the lassitude of mind. Engler’s details and her keen sense of composition are what give these paintings life and make them strangely appealing. A set of over-large green beads, red-striped athletic socks, two empty picture frames and cats offer visual interest that takes us even deeper into the realms of banality, suggesting that perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel of gray. Titles such as “Control Top Snow White,” “Legless Marionette” and “Mermaid Zombie” are just a few of our anti-heroines, lulling us with their anxiety-induced stupor. Are they beyond hope of rescue? Are we?

These are not inspiring paintings in the traditional sense; rather, they’re intoxicating for their perfection in capturing a state we’ve all known from time to time. I’ve seen these women in the mall; I’ve seen them in the mirror. And when I have, I’ve attempted to run like hell. Maybe a haircut would do the trick?

Active Sedation, recent figurative paintings by Dara Engler, curated by Robert Meko, is on view at ALCHEMY art + aesthetics, 1043 Virginia Ave., #3, through July 28. Gallery hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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