Mary Lou Zelazny

Roy Boyd Gallery

The determining effects of photography on contemporary existence take on a wonderful physical palpability in the recent work of Mary Lou Zelazny. The figures in her painted and collaged images are composed of photographic fragments culled from books and magazines; indeed, her characters are both physically and poetically constituted by the images they consume. Zelazny is a collagist/provocateur, judiciously wielding her scissors to construct figures that are seamlessly incorporated into straightforward, descriptively painted settings, creating scenarios that manage to reanimate traditional art-historical conventions.

It is typical of Zelazny, for example, to update a rather exhausted genre such as the fête champêtre, as in O Sole Mio, 1991, a work in which an alfresco serenade is set in a stark and barren landscape littered with cigarette butts. Entirely comprised of photographic fragments of sylvan nature—the very stuff their environment no longer offers—Zelazny’s two figures carry within themselves the anthropomorphized echoes of nature’s former glory. It is like some post-Armageddon Watteau, a touching and bittersweet throwback aimed at an ecologically bankrupt future. Zelazny is above all a superb craftsperson, and her skills as a painter and as a collagist are perfectly combined, each technique informing and elliptically balancing out the other. In another courting scene, entitled Stardust, 1991, a lush beauty is worshipped by a monstrous beast, a man whose desire has transmogrified him into a repository of images, a Frankenstein in love, a physical realization of hormones in high gear.

La Puntura (The puncture, 1991) brings the courtship theme to a chilling finale. In this portrait a bride stares out from behind layers of gauzy painted veils, choosing to ignore the fact that her wedding dress is textured with snippets of images of grubs, spiders, lizards, aphids, frogs, snakes, etc. This dank allegory whispers of corruption beneath the facade of connubial bliss.

Zelazny’s pictures employ the authoritative, rhetorical tactics of monumental figure painting, but they introduce enough humor and inventiveness to turn the convention in upon itself. She shatters imagery to see what meanings can be gleaned from the fragments.

James Yood