St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 21, 1996
LAYERS OF PERSONAL HISTORY
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