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Art Review


Published November 16, 2005 at 5:00 a.m.

EXHIBIT:Larry Bowling: "New Work," paintings and assemblages. Doll-Anstadt Gallery, Burlington. Through November.

ARTWORK"Dance" by Larry Bowling

Larry Bowling, an assemblage artist from Charles-town, Massachu-setts, has been a staple at Burling-ton's Doll-Anstadt Gallery since at least 1999, and his November exhibition of 14 new works is cut from the same fine cloth -- or rather, acetate -- as his earlier shows. Bowling presents allusive scenes and visual puzzles that imply, rather than spell out, intimate histories and memories. He imparts layers of meaning by literally layering colors, forms and occasional found objects into translucent narratives that seem deliberately vague. That allows viewers to discover their own associative meanings in the works.

Most of Bowling's figurative paintings are mixed-media, including images Xeroxed onto clear acetate and embedded into black, yellow and orange surfaces. His colors are the hues of weathered parchment, or partially burned manuscripts. Other elements, such as copper, mica, nails and bits of cursive text, also regularly appear.

"Catch" presents two nude male figures involved in that quintessentially 19th-century activity, tossing a medicine ball back and forth. Oblivious to being drafted into a 21st-century painting, the mustachioed men are like tiny ghosts, lost in a loop of repetitive motion.

"Dance" has a similar feel, but features two views of a female figure turning in space. Bowling combines geometric abstraction with figurative elements by scoring straight lines and surrounding figures with painted squares. "Dance" has a more subtle color harmony than most, as purple and lilac hues seep into the edges of the square around the figure. Also common to Bowling's paintings are flurries of calligraphic scribbles inscribed into negative spaces.

It's fortunate that the timing of his show coincides with the Fleming Museum's current exhibition, "Eadweard Muybridge: Studies in Locomotion." It seems likely that all of Bowling's figures were expropriated from Muybridge, whom he counted as an inspiration. The 19th-century photographer's body of work has been a goldmine for collage and assemblage artists over the last hundred years.

Bowling's "Equus" harkens back to Muybridge's earliest experiments, which included equestrian studies. The two panels of "Equus" are horizontal rectangles showing three frames of a horse's gallop as it races from right to left. The two rightmost frames are partially obliterated, and the far-left image is fairly clear. By so altering the passage of the horse, Bowling draws viewers toward the left, where the horse is charging into nothingness.

Another diptych, entitled "Darkness, Darkness," is one of Bowling's few nonfigurative works. At roughly 6 feet long, it's also the largest piece in the show. The diptych reads like a landscape, with a low horizon shooting through the two square panels. The light is strange, like that of a polar dawn with an orange sun never rising more than a few degrees into the eastern sky. But as in two frames of a Muybridge study, "Darkness, Darkness" is apparently two views of the same sunrise -- or sunset -- with the brightest light in the right panel. Bowling's trademark scratches and scribbles are dug into the tar-like darkness. Here the unique orange-and-black harmony that dominates his show is especially oppressive, and rich.

The title "Pas de Dieu" -- i.e., "No God" -- suggests that existential angst is a component of Bowling's works, along with implied dreams and memories. "Pas de Dieu" is the halved portrait of a man wearing a necktie, locked into a vertically bisected square at the center of the assemblage. Nails are studded along the edges of the piece, emphasizing the sense of containment.

Bowling has written of his works, "They avoid direct narratives and are intended as meditations for the subconscious." His is one show in which the artist's intent and results are in perfect harmony.