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Art review: 'Except for the Sound of My Voice' at FrameHouse & Jask Gallery

| Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, 8:45 p.m.
Leslie Golomb
Leslie Golomb, 'A Prodigy of the Cello'
Leslie Golomb
Leslie Golomb, 'Except for the Sound of My Voice'
Leslie Golomb
Leslie Golomb, 'They sound a lot like the sounds I hear in the churches and the prisons”
Li Kang
Li Kang, 'An Intoxicated Night with Summer Heat”

One of the few carry-over exhibits from last year worth seeking out is “Except for the Sound of My Voice,” on display at FrameHouse & Jask Gallery at the Ice House in Lawrenceville.

Featuring 19 painstakingly executed works by Leslie Golomb of Squirrel Hill, the exhibit's dreamlike imagery blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Much of it takes the form of photogravures, which are both a print and a photograph. By its very nature, it exists somewhere between the real and the imagined.

Golomb is one of fewer than 100 printmakers around the globe employing the technique of photogravure, which is an intaglio printmaking or photo-mechanical process that coats a copper plate with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue that has been exposed to a film positive and then etched, resulting in a high-quality intaglio print that can reproduce the details and tones of a photograph.

The earliest forms of photogravure were developed in the 1830s by the original pioneers of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot in England and Joseph Nicephore Niepce in France. They created photographic images on plates that could be etched. The etched plates could then be printed using a traditional printing press.

American photographer Alfred Stieglitz is best known for photogravure in the early 20th century. By then, the speed and convenience of silver-gelatin photography had all but displaced photogravure. Because of its arduous process, only several dozen workshops throughout the world still practice the art.

Golomb's series is composed of staged photography juxtaposed with drawn and imaginary characters. The emphasis is on the mythical, says the artist, diverging drastically from past works. “My current artistic endeavors strive not to revisit but to revisualize time,” she says.

Nearly each piece in the series depicts a young girl, Shira Burcat, Golomb's niece and a creative soul herself, a gifted writer.

The source of inspiration for these images was Burcat's poem “A Reflection Paper,” in which the writer turns the act of writing poetry back on itself. It's a delirious composition on introspection and, I suggest, much worth reading before delving into the imagery.

Burcat's words are a perfect match for the alchemic qualities in Golomb's prints. Here, the artist has transformed the photographs that began with Burcat playing with a hula hoop into a dreamy sequence enhanced by grainy, contoured lines and hand-drawn elements, adding a sense of mystery.

The show's namesake, a print of the same title, is the first visitors will encounter, and undoubtedly a signature work that exemplifies Golomb's ability to transcend the mechanical and plastic through gestural mark making.

In it, Burcat is seen with her body arched back as she twirls a hula hoop over her head. All around her, Golumb has filled in space with mists and markings that completely envelop her in an ethereal ooze, while faint images of Indonesian shadow puppets lurk watchfully in the background.

In “A Prodigy of the Cello,” Burcat is seen with three hula hoops wrapped around her hunched-over body. Golumb took advantage of the stance, by working in the shape of a cello on the plate, which brought forth an entirely different narrative.

“She looked like she should be holding something,” Golomb says. “It's been said that the cello is the instrument that's closest to the human voice. So, I decided to add it.”

Next to that image, Golomb has printed a second plate, which overlaps it. It is filled with gestural scrawls she drew directly on the plate.

“I like the idea of doing two plates on one sheet, which I hadn't done before,” Golomb says. “I'm trying to get more playful with it than create static imagery.”

In this way, Golomb is able to introduce an element of playfulness, as well as create a sense of movement.

Golomb incorporates two prints on one sheet again with “They Sound a Lot Like the Sounds I Hear in the Churches and the Prisons” but here, she combines a copperplate photogravure of Burcat twirling hula hoops with a silkscreen element featuring a lineup of Balinese puppets.

“The puppets represent her alter ego, telling her what to do,” Golomb says. “There is always somebody or something there telling you what to do, but, in this case, she's leading them.”

Not far away hang seven large wood-cut prints by Li Kang, a Chinese national and friend of the artist.

Golomb met Kang last year, as a participant exhibitor at the China Printmaking Museum in Hangzhou, China.

Kang's intricate wood etchings feature pastoral themes depicted in dramatic black-and-white.

Like Golomb's work, Kang's etching and wood-carving process is painstaking. The high level of detail is staggering.

Especially when considering large-scale works such as “An Intoxicated Night With Summer Heat,” which features an owl in flight under street lights. An exercise in high contrast, the eye is drawn to the owl, and the intricate detail with which the artist has captured the magnificent nocturnal bird.

“White Night, Summer Arriving” is just as alarmingly detailed, featuring a precarious wooden ladder propped against a gnarled and twisted tree branch. A lone bird patrols the perimeter, and, in the distance, open fields of reeds meet the sky. The image is one of solitude, inviting imagined narratives of loss and loneliness.

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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