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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 21, 1996


By Jeff Daniel

The current exhibit of Egyptian artifacts on display at the Art Museum will undoubtedly do big box office, and no doubt it will be well-deserved. With its "wonders of the ancient world" pedigree, "Splendor of the Pharaohs" holds a pair of rhyming, no-lose draws: history and mystery.

Oddly enough, the modern art form of mixed-media collage offers its own, parallel elements of archaeological wonder. Providing more literal information than pure abstract art, collage often challenges the viewer to piece together buried and incomplete shards of information--a family photograph, a scrawled-on diary page, a rudimentary sketch. Obscured by layers of paint, wax and other materials, history is transformed into mystery, not through the passage of several millennia, but through the creative intentions of the artist. In essence, it's an on-site dig thrown into reverse.
With her mixed-media works on paper, canvas and Masonite, Nancy Exarhu posesses this deft knack for drawing a viewer into a work by highlighting the obscured and the unknown.

Although her two dozen pieces on display at the St. Louis Design Center owe a debt to forebears such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, they reveal an impressively unique sense of technique and vision. Exarhu's sub ject matter is a mix of familial history, emotional therapy and cultural observation-- often with all three cropping up in a single work. Her technique mirrors this same density. Found objects are layered on one another and covered with vibrant brushstrokes, scribbled notes anddripped wax. Rather than being drawn across the piece, the eye is instead drawn into its depths.

The highlights here are Exarhu's smaller, more personal works. In "Boating" and "Picnic" (both 10 by 12 inches), the artist combines family snapshots with other scraps of the past, obscuring with semi-legible and illegible scrawls, brush strokes and etching. The resulting environment is a mix of the soothing and the tumultuous, works that raise many more questions than they could ever answer.
Exarhu's "When I Grow Up I Will Be a Concubine," a heavily textured, subtle piece, with its washed-out photo of a smiling girl amid an endless number of indecipherable clues, is the standard bearer for this exhibit. It's an emotionally haunting, yet graphically pleasing, work of art.

Copyright 1996 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Record Number: 9603220322

© 2008 Nancy Exarhu-Holtz