Secrets and Lies

IN NANCY ROBINSON'S art, hair sprouts and curls where it isn't welcome: poking through a woman's chest in Fear of Intimacy; carpeting the body of the first woman in Eve; growing from a supine palm in The Secret Admirer. This is no mere masturbation joke; for Robinson, hair is one of many symbols that stands in for the repressed. On the female of the species, after all, body hair is a hidden birthright: "Women generally aren't portrayed as hairy," Robinson says, "and we are, secretly... Hair can be your crowning glory or some sort of statement about yourself if it's on your head. And it can also be a symbol of shame."

We all have nasty secrets, Robinson reminds us, doubling the anxiety by conjuring a world in which such things might bubble up into flesh. A man and woman slowly merge in The Perfect Marriage, trading bodies as flowers sprout from their flesh and an infant's head grows like a tumor from their joined shoulder. In The Homely Sister #2, a woman's head perches on the trunk of a dog.

Comparisons to Frida Kahlo are inevitable, and not just because both artists twist bodies toward their own ends. Like Kahlo, Robinson too often renders her figures with an overworked stiffness that dampens her work's visceral potential. In a few exceptional works, such as Sara Jean, Cute as a Button, Robinson renders her realistic surrealisms with sensitive strokes. The gentle naturalism in the toddler's pudgy fingers only accentuates the horror that Sara Jean's head is literally a button, with two holes serving as vacant eyes.

Robinson appears to work most comfortably in three dimensions; in her busts, she achieves an immediacy that is often absent in her 2-D work. The Hostess I, a head whose only feature is a smiling, glistening mouth where the eyes should be, is a truly unnerving embodiment of the idea that our resentments and obsessions could someday sprout physical manifestations--and that they might stab through eyes, lips, and skin on the way out. (Francis Hwang)

Nancy Robinson's work is on exhibit at Flanders Contemporary Art through July 5; Call 344-1700.

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