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August 14 - September 25, 2004 at ANDLAB, Downtown

by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.

We look at the age we live in and are shocked; we rage against the images of death and destruction that fill our various media outlets. Yet history reveals that the one constant throughout the evolution of humankind is the violence that we perpetuate against one another. It is not a modern invention. We often forget that the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Medieval Europeans lived in times with a steady diet of war.

Just so, the ravages of war and its impact on the land and people have been provocatively probed throughout the history of art. Masterpieces by Goya, Manet, Picasso, Motherwell and Rauschenberg are among many that document the tradition of destruction that fills our visual histories. In this wonderfully confrontational exhibition, titled Vulnerable, Peter Liashkov and Susan Rankaitis each present a series of mixed media works that examine the susceptibility to injury of both body and mind.

The damages of war are more far reaching than the visible scars on the land and architecture, which eventually fade, and subtler than missing limbs and the ravaged skin of survivors. The damage to the soul and the crushing of the spirit are the real subjects of this exhibit. The elegant art is an elegy to the spirit of optimism that is the hallmark of our species even in the darkest of times.

Rankaitis stops visitors to the gallery with a towering projectile that looks like it could be a shell from one of the monstrous sixteen inch cannons that make battleships the scourge of the oceans. The marks on Rocket Lure at first glance look like rust and wear from the years of service to the gods of war. But when you move in for a closer examination you’ll see images of beauty emerge, previously hidden on this frightening object.

Susan Rankaitis, "Rocket Lure," 1990,
mixed media, 115 1/2 x 27 1/2".

Susan Rankaitis, "Drift," 2004,mixed
media on photographic paper, 16 x 20".

Susan Rankaitis, "It's like riding a
bicycle," 2004, mixed media on photo-
graphc paper, diptych, 8 x 10" each.

Continuing this mysterious conversation, Tightrope is a diptych whose format recalls the sacred paintings of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. These images on photographic paper are the product of a complex process that includes elements of drawing, photography, and collage as well as chemical altering of the surface. We are presented with a series of ghosts that seem to ask: What is the tightrope that we walk? Is it individual or the species? The diminutive size forces us close to the image’s surface to examine its content. The nude torso that emerges brings up another series of questions that explore the issue of vulnerability. The exquisite quality of the art adds to the complexity. The sheer beauty of the object helps create a perplexing dichotomy.

Peter Liashkov, "Man Age 28,"
2004, pastel/acrylic/graphite/
oil on synskin, 70 x 37 1/2".

Peter Liashkov, "Arm 2,"
2004, acrylic/metal dust/
oil on synskin, 108 x 48".

Peter Liashkov, "Lovers," 2004,
acrylic/powder pigment/pastel/
prisma color on synskin, 90 x 47".
Peter Liashkov’s large-scale mixed-media paintings are created on a vellum-like translucent fiberglass called synskin. These works continue his exploration of the human condition. We are presented with a series of damaged men whose presence is haunting. In Man Age 28 we see a standing nude figure whose head is covered with a black hood. The hood, long a symbol of execution, turns the image into a frightening visage. The purpose of the hood in this image is a matter of reflection.

Arm 1 presents a nude figure, but the artist displays the work lying on sawhorses. Is this a metaphor for a warrior lying dead or being carried out on his shield? His missing arm has been replaced with a prosthesis that seems out of place, looking alien against the ravaged flesh. We gaze at the beauty of the artist’s hand, while being repelled by the horror of what is portrayed.

Haunting elegies on the ephemeral nature of the human body and the consequent scaring of the soul are elegantly presented by Liashkov and Rankaitis. It is a demanding exhibition that argues the role of artists as expressive of the conscience of civilization.