Two Women of 59 Rue de Rivoli

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-d42DC1PxqL.jpg’, ‘Painting by Etsuko Kobayshi’, ”);

n An exhibition from Paris now at the Kortman Gallery

The women featured in the current exhibition at Kortman Gallery use the figure as a vehicle for commenting on our lives in very different, and yet very contemporary ways. While one is drawing about her everyday environment, and the other is exploring American culture through her Parisian eyes, both are opening our eyes.

Etsuko Kobayashi, a Japanese artist, explores her existence with its boredom and tensions in her home and Parisian neighborhood. While she claims these paintings are not self-portraits, they intimately entwine objects from daily life and over-sized figures sporting lipstick and a determined, sometimes grim, stare.

In one piece, a slightly dreamy woman is overlaid and intertwined with the view from her Parisian flat. A solid, maroon boulevard curves in from the right, while cobalt blue anchors the leaning figure from the left. A reddish car driving by mimics her lipstick in both shape and size.

Working on unstretched, gessoed canvas, Kobayashi combines two aspects of post-millennium, contemporary art: figuration and a super-flat delivery. Recognizable elements are drawn with a sure hand and a soft medium such as charcoal. Space is then divided and flattened with vertical ink lines cutting through the image and background. While there are areas of texture—and the lipstick—within the figures and cars and bathtubs, the background is delivered in places with a couple of smoothly painted, interesting and perfectly chosen colors.

Kobayashi’s stylish exaggeration charges the women and their spaces with mystery that is both challenging to the viewer, and satisfying.

Aurelie de la Cadiere is a French pop artist who uses a svelte Miss Piggy and other animals to comment on her rendition of American culture. She takes comical aim at most of our addictions from shopping to fast food through her cartoon characters, which are painted in nearly neon colors.

It is not hard to imagine Miss Piggy as a Kosher Miss America, on a shopping spree or even trying a martini. So the sexually charged versions of her are an obvious step in de la Cadiere’s imagination. Step close to these paintings and appreciate the lush color combinations and sensuous curvilinear strategy that tell the story of these excesses in paint.

Again, this work brings to Rockford some of the ideas and techniques that seem to be characterizing art in this post-millennium era. As is Kobayashi’s work, this work is both figurative and flatly painted. It is also girly and playful, fusing fiction and narrative. Its dumb images are painted in dumb, but heartbreakingly beautiful colors. Although painted in Paris, they contain the idea of America and what we ironically call the “developed world.”

This exhibition continues through May 31 at Kortman Gallery and the J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St., Rockford. The store and gallery are open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Don’t miss this unique opportunity.

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