Faces of Laura Pritchard at Muse

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Post by Aly Gibson

Laura Pritchard’s exhibition “Faces” at Muse Gallery is a collection of colorful batik portraits printed on silk. Each piece is rich in color and detail, especially those that are bordered in intricate designs. The exaggerated and unrealistic features of the subjects and dreamlike backgrounds hint that perhaps the portraits are idealistic and defy conventions.

I especially enjoyed “Escape of the Red Dress” (2002), a portrait of a grotesque woman in a red dress. Although she has multiple blemishes, a big nose, glasses, stringy hair and a mole on her face, she slips on a sexy red dress to feel feminine. Against a backdrop of tall grass moving in the breeze, the woman is wearing her red dress to escape society’s expectations of beauty.

“Visage” (2004) similarly explores the concept of expectations and misunderstandings. This print uses typical African art colors to illustrate a woman’s portrait, as African masks decorate the background. On the information card Pritchard states, “I have never been to Africa.” She suggests that the public often comprehends and portrays people, places or ideas incorrectly before getting to know them well. The artist admits that since she has never been to Africa, her designs are mere interpretations. The woman’s face is also distorted and unrealistic, which symbolizes that it is only a vision of the person and not actuality. In the corner of the print, there are two small dark monkey figures with enormous shadows. This distortion of size also plays on the same idea that things are not always what they appear to be.

Perhaps the most interesting piece in the exhibition, “The Annunciation” (2004) (shown right) depicts the Virgin Mary with a gold halo around her head. Conventional representations of this biblical moment include a complacent, religious Mary in a walled garden symbolizing her virginity. However, this piece sets Mary in an open, lush garden with a small brick wall in the bottom right corner; this decision declares a definite deviation from the classical representations. Furthermore, this work portrays a grey-haired Mary shocked by the news that she is bearing the son of G-d. Her shadow indicates that her hands are on her hips showing that she is also angry and confused. Pritchard chooses to incorporate the shadow of only one of Gabriel’s wings, to keep the focus on Mary. This version of “The Annunciation” humanizes the character of Mary, displaying the sentiments and reaction of a real person upon hearing this news. Therefore, despite its cartoon-like artistic techniques, it is ironically the most realistic print in the gallery. (top image is “50”)

“Faces” will be on display until January 2, 2005.

–Aly Gibson is a student in Colette Copeland’s art criticism class at Penn.

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