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September 1 - 25, 2005 at Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Orange County

by Daniella Walsh

Contemporary art found in Southern California galleries and museums has never been more fascinating, in good part because of today’s wide range of styles and mediums. Gone are all traces of dogma when one school dominated--anything goes. Galleries, in turn, are freer to explore different directions, and viewers have a chance to widen their horizons correspondingly. In a gallery that has established a reputation for featuring mostly abstract painting with a few representational landscapes interspersed, Constance Edwards Scopelitis deftly combines figurative painting with abstract backgrounds, or abstract narration rendered in a figurative style.

The result is a form of magical realism, an intriguing combination of disjointed bodies and limbs, surrounded by neo-classical elements and symbols representing ancient mythology or supporting personal storytelling. "The Gods" and her "Mermaid" series are representative examples of this particular direction.

Scopelitis is also an intellectually astute painter, someone who has not only mastered technique but challenges viewers to wholly immerse themselves in the works. It also is evident that she draws very well. Even some of the more accomplished contemporary portraitists or figurative painters wind up falling short in that department--proportions are skewed, features or appendages too sketchy, backgrounds either too sparse or too overwhelming--leaving one feeling shortchanged. However, Scopelitis’ paintings deliver.

"South Pacific Mermaid, after
Klimt," oil on linen, 34 x 40".

"Woman," oil on linen, 36 x 36".

"Narcissus and Echo,
oil on linen, 36 x 48"

Whether you’re up to deciphering the array of symbols accompanying much of the central figuration is another matter. At times, the surrounding plot gets a bit thick, threatening to obscure the subject; or the colors are a bit too upbeat, bright or pastel, becoming saccharine. This is the fate of "Red Eden" and "Blue Madonna," though the latter is saved by Scopelitis’ deft handling of the overlap between subject and background.

After a time, one might long for something darker, maybe nihilistically noir. But then, "Woman," an erotic, multi-layered, richly textured composition in shades of red, and "Standing Tall," a straight-on depiction of the female form embellished by symbols and tattoos reminiscent of exotic Asian dances, offer relief from the otherwise unflagging brightness.

"Family," on the other hand, suggests rather than depicts the figure. The combination of a subtle palette and predominance of abstract form and implied movement establishes this painting as the show’s lead, followed by the lyrical, dreamlike "Mermaid Series-Beaks."

It’s noteworthy that the majority of female bodies lack heads and faces. Scopelitis also earns her bread as a portraitist, and that may have a bearing here on her more personal work. The current series of paintings is a distinct and apparently intellectually necessary departure from her commercial work, with "Mrs.(1) Solinger," a classic portrait of a stern faced woman posed against a richly textured, tapestry-style background, being the notable exception. The one portrait displays a photographer’s mastery of light and brings to mind the simple drama of James McNeill Whistler’s compositions.

Over all, Scopelitis’ body of work suggests that this mid-career transplant from Indiana is establishing a niche between her commercial work and personal expression, between art that is accessible and yet still presents a challenge.