What's up at the galleries this month?
by Sura Wood
International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8, but of course, every day is women's day, isn't it? Not so fast. Though women constitute over 51% of the population, the representation of work by women artists in galleries and museums is a tiny fraction of their numbers. Here are a few shows around town correcting that imbalance.
Gallery 16 Tale Spin "There's always a subversive edge to fairy tales – and girls are always the victims," opines Berkeley-based artist Deborah Oropallo, who, having read those familiar, seemingly innocent children's stories, determined that they're loaded morality plays intended to scare girls into being good. In her beguiling bodies of work, Oropallo, a provocateur with a wicked sensibility, has been enamored of fetish costumes from scanty nurse's uniforms to sailor outfits, and by implication, the submissive/dominant female roles they suggest. This time out, she exercises that proclivity while having her way with the imagined struggles of little girls lost in the woods. Influenced equally by Looney Tunes and Lolita, Oropallo asks if ye olde cautionary tales are a repressive response to the fear of unbridled female sexuality as she investigates, in these complex portraits of women, the connections between fashion, fairy tales and female sexuality and eroticism. Fusing painting, printmaking and collage, she creates layers of imagery and meaning that produce a hypnotic effect; it's as if you're looking through disguises women wear and detecting their hidden, alternate selves. In "Armed," a woman wears a gas mask and red-plumed Roman soldier's helmet; "Entangled" appears to be a Pinocchio marionette bound up in strings designed for its manipulation; the sinister figure in "Cursed" is dressed in a blue ski mask, golden crown and a blue-and-white Snow White costume with red bows; a red-haired vixen with matching hair and gloves regards us from behind the mask of a Doberman Pinscher in "Duped." Rife with starvation, abandoned children, rape, abuse, witches and evil sorcerers, fairy tales, laden with powerful subliminal messages, have burrowed deep into the unconscious. When awakened like a bewitched princess freed from enchantment, they serve as an internal guide, steering us away from harm and wanton abandonment of the sexual variety. Danger lurks there, they warn, but why should we be afraid? (April 7, 6:30 p.m., the gallery hosts a performance by Fauxnique, followed by a conversation with Oropallo and critic Glen Helfand.) Through April 30. www.gallery16.com
Toomey Tourell Beneath the Surface: New Paintings by Ursula O'Farrell Family, relationships, inner turmoil, celebration and the ties that bind are rendered with an intense color palette and thick, gestural brushstrokes by O'Farrell, who carries forward the tradition of Bay Area Figurative painters like David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. But in contrast to her forebears, she delves deeper into complex psychological territory. Here, her subject is primarily women whom she depicts in emotionally charged oil paintings such as "Mother Daughter," in which a dominant yet somehow recessive central figure with blurred boundaries is illuminated in a halo of warm ochre-tinged tones. A portrait infused with emotion, it conveys the web of complicated, sometimes contradictory feelings children, even grown-up ones, have toward their mothers, and how those feelings distort perception. A group of well-turned-out, exuberant women links arms in "Dance of Four," and a fetching seated figure, shrouded in scarlet and wrapped in a coat with a luxurious fur collar, awaits the next act in "Hommage to Nathan," a tribute to the late Nathan Oliveira, the California painter known for the sensuality and humanity that also inform O'Farrell's work. Through April 16. www.toomey-tourell.com
Jack Fischer Gallery John Hundt/Camilla Newhagen: Couplings In previous work, Newhagen, intrigued by the female body a
San Francisco City Hall (lower level)