Visual Art

Karen Chevalier-Smith: A Woman on the Verge

G.C. Lucas Gallery

Through July

Personages from history can inspire us in ways we may or may not understand. It's as if their life's work continues, permeating the ether as a sort of archetype or worldview. Indianapolis artist Karen Chevalier-Smith is inspired by mystical figures and pop culture icons, recognizing that both have archetypal reverberations. Chevalier-Smith's exhibition A Woman on the Verge, at G.C. Lucas Gallery, explores that elusive world that grips us consciously and unconsciously, focusing on that boundary between one state and another. 'Earth Angel' by Karen Chevalier-Smith is part of her exhibit at G.C. Lucas Gallery.

Incorporating iconography and text from classical Christian art and the soothing wisdom of figures such as Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich and Fra Angelica, Chevalier-Smith weaves a tapestry of beautiful women who are at some emotional precipice or other, but not necessarily a negative one. Part of the magic of archetypes is they provide a loose but well-defined script that takes us from one point to the other, or suggest a pattern of some kind. There are destructive archetypes as well as life-engendering ones, but the hope is that we don't get stuck in them.

Chevalier-Smith, who expertly and deftly paints the female figure in contemporary settings, is enamored by physical beauty, as if it, too, is archetypal. In "Earth Angel," the image of a woman is surrounded by the words of English mystic Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well," punctuated by crosses marking the four corners of the painting. This and other canvases are appropriately rich and luxurious, incorporating gold leaf and deeply saturated plums and reds, each figurative exploration a window into a melancholy dreamworld where hope springs eternal.

Chevalier-Smith's women are struggling with constraint. Perhaps they recognize their potential but are thwarted by demons - within, without, collective, individual, they're felt but not seen, whispering from within the dark paint.

In "Tamer of Dark Butterflies," a woman stands in the shadows, her bobbed, black hair and red dress lending a sensual vitality, as a cluster of butterflies hovers above her. Can she see them? The butterfly, a symbol for the psyche, is out in force, perhaps symbolizing the many choices the woman has - here she stands, on the verge ... what will she choose?

"Each painting represents a state of mind, or a pursuit or a process," Chevalier-Smith told me. "And oftentimes I was trying to depict an emotion ... so the viewer could connect on a visceral level." We see women reflecting, reading, dancing and gazing into the mirror ... some are aware of the viewer and some are not. Archetypes are like that: They operate whether or not we're aware of them.

Women on the Verge is on view at G. C. Lucas Gallery, 4930 N. Pennsylvania, 255-4000, through July.


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