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by Ray Zone

(Hamilton Gallery, West Hollywood) Narrative is at the heart of the paintings of Lucinda Luvaas. Words and phrases in particular are what drive the creation of her images. Language is ubiquitous in her art, with words woven into the visual scheme of her paintings. Words float deliriously around the surface of her canvases like ideographic ghosts.

In fact, her paintings are built as a responsive montage of gestures and scenarios that rebut and counter their own titles. Alternatively, the actions depicted in the works demonstrate frantic and impossible attempts by their characters to live up to a verbal stereotype. Quite often the operative phrase is hopeful, as with I Can Handle This, which is illustrated with a series of paintings that belie the simple statement. More frequently, however, the statement is negative, such as She Can't Keep Up, Can't You Do Anything? or Not Even Your Plants Love You.

All of the artist's works are responsive ruminations, visual dialogues with these common phrases. And the images are built with bright, pleasing colors and a childlike simplicity which stands in ironic contrast to the human complexities that underlie their genesis. Working with oil on panel or clayboard, Luvaas works in much the same manner as an editorial cartoonist. Her art is visually appealing but it is centered, like the cartoonist's, around a conceptual punchline. So the art is as finished as is necessary to deliver the idea at the heart of the montage.

Many of the paintings depict a central female figure surrounded by a series of smaller scenarios in which she also interacts. She Can't Keep Up (panel six), for example, shows a frantic supermom, whose apron is labeled "Wonder Woman," pursued by two demanding infants.

"He Never Offered,"
o/c, 18 x 24", 1999.

"We Can't Keep Up,"
o/c, 22 x 28", 1997.

"She Can't Keep Up #1,"
o/c, 24 x 30", 1999.

"Fortune Cookie,"
o/c, 16 x 20", 1998.
In smaller, surrounding images she is depicted on the marital bed watching TV, hailing a taxi, serving a cocktail, lifting weights and attending to a wailing infant as smoke spews from an adjacent toaster. This work accurately and with great humor depicts the multi-tasking and stressful demands of motherhood and the home.

Another domestic rhapsody titled I Can Handle This Mixed is laid out like the page of a comic book, with five separate panels in the painting. Can We Keep Up? #2 is a more general and hilarious reflection on life and mortality with observations about a fast pace that even continues beyond the grave. The simpler portrait We're Keeping Up depicts an array of housewives jogging in a marathon.

If language delimits experience, reducing the whole of life to a particular focus, then visual imagery may expand our field of view and enlarge our perception. When the linear specificity of words is countered by a spontaneous array of images, the inability of language to capture human experience is laid bare and exposed for all to see. An art which incorporates the devices of both has powerful humanity. It can liberate a buried life from the austerity of words.