Visual Art

It's easy and too obvious to make a big fuss about symbols when it comes to looking at art. Outside the notion of deciphering symbolic content as an analytical exercise, for those of us who write about art, or even those who don't, symbolism is a means of making art meaningful on a personal level. Symbols, indeed, are largely personal; one person's apple of knowledge is another's apple of health. Sofiya Inger's paintings are on view at the Stutz Art Gallery through this weekend.

Russian-born artist Sofiya Inger, an Indianapolis resident since 1994, speaks through and beyond symbols in her nostalgically evocative paintings, on view at the Stutz Art Gallery through the weekend. Inger's wistful images of ghostlike figures are easily compared to the work of Russian painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Chagall's work was dominated by fantastical imagery that came from a highly nostalgic, emotional place. It was Chagall, in fact, who once said, "If a symbol should be discovered in a painting of mine, it was not my intention. It is a result I did not seek. It is something that may be found afterwards, and which can be interpreted according to taste."

If interpretation is indeed in the eye of the beholder, then art analysis becomes unnecessary, unless the viewer or writer desires to view the art at a rational, intellectual level, or if such an exercise contributes to the emotional experience of it. Inger titles her show Transformation: Surrealist Paintings, speaking to the artistic movement in which so-called "symbols" were seemingly nonsensical, but spoke to an individual's truth through the unconscious.

Inger's symbols are both enigmatic and impossible to ignore. Fruits, pots, bridges and hills are anthropomorphized, rendering them both romantic and almost comical. In "Bulbs," for example, flower bulbs stretch out into long faces with expressions of childlike longing. This isn't to say Inger's work shouldn't be taken seriously: All passionate art should be taken seriously, and Inger's paintings possess a welcome depth, an authenticity and consistency of message. Inger's figures are almost primitive in their rendering, and yet they're also real in the human sense, even as they stretch out into the canvas like ghosts, often in somber, berry-saturated palettes of color. "Letting Go" speaks to me of a mother who must let go of her children; it's a necessary but painful life passage.

Like Chagall, Inger paints many layers of image and meaning, both in celebration and in lamentation. From the joy and splendor in the lovely, richly proportioned "Food, Glorious Food" in which an extended family partakes in an endless table of hearty fare, to the pathos in "Vortex," which also seems to speak of family but more in terms of complex dynamics - blue and red faces float as masks - there's a richness here, both in the personal detail of Inger's paintings and in their universality. As the artist writes, "Through countless changing masks of everyday reality I seek to find true sorrow, grace and fragility of human heart."

Transformation: Surrealist Paintings by Sofiya Inger is on view through this weekend at the Stutz Art Gallery presented by Print Resources, 1005 N. Senate, phone 833-7000. Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Transformation: Surrealist Paintings

Sofiya Inger

Stutz Art Gallery

Through this weekend


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