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Adventurous landscapes at Flanders 311

The stuff of dreams

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"Melancholy at Sea" (2007), by Lori Esposito. 19 in. x 26 in., acrylic on aluminum - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLANDERS 311

Para Potion: Paintings by Lori Esposito
Flanders 311
Through Nov. 30

Lori Esposito makes paintings that plumb the dreamscapes of the imagination. Her small, contemplative show now on view at Flanders 311 quietly lulls you into her celestial world. At first her work struck me—fittingly, given her theme—as a little drowsy. Though my encounter with her art got off to a bit of a subdued start, I found myself quickly warming up to it.

The paintings are small—just a few have dimensions larger than 12 inches or so—and are done on plywood or aluminum panels with exposed edges, which helps ground their ethereality somewhat. They do, however, pack quite a wallop. It is an eventual impact that sneaks up on you—unfolding slowly in an individual and oddly nebulous way.

Consistently throughout the exhibit, Esposito shows her dexterity with the brush; the effective use of a variety of paint applications is one of her great successes. The paintings all possess supple handling of the medium, and they continually alternate between deftly handled, exacting brushstrokes and broad, washy, saturated fields of color.

The works in this show explore notions of the self within society, and the artist has taken visual cues from the various regions of the United States in which she has lived. Her desire is to begin to strike a psychological dialogue between the vague and the definite, the nameable and the imagined, and her vehicle for doing so is one of the most time-honored subjects in painting: the landscape.

Specifically, Esposito uses landscape imagery inspired by locales from around the country and then superimposes upon them a layering of various fauna and botanical forms. Works like "Blue Abyss" effectively display her technique, as the delicate branches of young trees are exquisitely rendered and amplify the contrast of the loosely brushed background. "The Vanishing" portrays a more surreal landscape emerging, as if from a hallucinatory haze, and heightened by a sharp, portal view out onto a precisely rendered mountainscape beyond. What keeps the show lively and saves it from becoming rote is its open-endedness, leaving distinct and significant components for viewers to complete in their minds' eye.

This is a show with a twist: Paintings that start out as quirky visual takes on a time-honored Western art tradition in fact are much more nuanced. They become an interactive cerebral puzzle. The work is an aesthetic road map into one's subconscious and, perhaps, a way to analyze the depths of one's experiences and sense of identity as related to place.

It's a tall order for any work of art and a heavy sense of duty to place on a few small paintings. Throw in our sound-bite-sized attention spans and easily distracted, media-overloaded selves, and it's an especially tenuous ambition. Is it an unrealistic agenda? Perhaps. Is Esposito's aim overly esoteric? Probably. Still, I think it's worth the shot. In fact, with close investigation, these paintings make it easy to find oneself lulled into a kind of acrylic paint-induced rapture.

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