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Meaning is 'Embodied' in pleasant form

The current show at Lark & Key's South End gallery location is all about form - the human form - and all in good taste. Three of the four artists showing in "Embodied" depict the whole person in figurative, drawing-based compositions; the fourth, ceramist Paula Smith, focuses only on the torso of the feminine form.

Walking into the gallery is a soothing yet mentally stimulating experience. The ambience tends toward a calm aesthetic, one that has been shaped over the years by the gallery creators, Sandy Snead and Duy Huynh. They have done this by limiting the work they show to art that demonstrates a calm, yet intellectual color palette and meditative content, even when it involves jewelry and traditional ceramics.

Duy Huynh (pronounced Yee Wun), himself one of the artists in "Embodied," is Vietnamese by birth, and has developed his art for more than 20 years living in the U.S. In this show his paintings are infused with a golden hue, pleasant to behold, and deceptively simple at first glance, with high quality craftsmanship. One can get lost in these paintings, and use them as meditative objects with their ethereal, otherworldly presence. It's easy to understand the popularity of this artist with the fairytale feelings conveyed in work such as "Moonlight Meandering," or in "Featherweight," with its attenuated feminine form joined by 10 whooping cranes, set within a dream-like landscape.

Elizabeth D'Angelo's unusual combination of oil paint applied to carved wood takes her through a process in which she "symbolically carves into the surface of exteriors ... into what is just beneath the surface." This interesting technique, utilized in such work as "The Prison of the Past Is Illusory," suits the surreal quality of her imagery involving people, fruits and vegetables.

Susan Hall conveys a subtle presence in her work with figures "softly obscured by a veil of lace." She applies thin layers of oil upon the delicate pattern made by laying lace over the panel, and this technique has the most impact when the tonal range of the hue is widest.

Paula Smith, the ceramics instructor at CPCC, follows a formula she has developed over 10 years for a continuing series of sculptural quasi-portraits of her daughter. Sweet at first glance, petite feminine torsos such as "Girl with Tags," appear merely pretty at first, decorated as they are with tiny birds or lace, or embellished with a feather duster as in "Feather Duster, Sweet Sixteen."

But beneath the pleasing surfaces is a smattering of something darker, spicier, or more of a personal story within: something about the bittersweet relationship of mother and daughter, perhaps. This work is immaculate, even obsessive, with expert technique.

Much of the work at Lark & Key tends to be soft focus, pleasant, like a nice poem. All four of the artists in "Embodied" "explore the physical and emotional nature of the human form and its relationship to the world it inhabits, real or imagined," and if this type of art doesn't have the sort of exciting boldness and initial visual impact of, say, the Robert Motherwells currently at Melberg Gallery, they make up for this with subtlety of meaning and quality of craftsmanship.

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