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Despite significant differences, the work of artists Jenny Laden, Chris Norris and Jered Sprecher all showing this month at ADA Gallery is united in its compelling use of subtraction and omission. The intentionally fragmentary nature of each artist's work creates a poetic, open-ended statement that ends with an ellipsis rather than a period.
Laden's self-portraits, painted on layered sheets of Mylar, combine the high polish of an Alex Katz painting with the staged psychological undertones of a Cindy Sherman photograph. The sharp focus of elements on the uppermost sheet of Mylar, executed with simple, confidant strokes, slowly gives way to more subdued elements on layers below.
Unlike Sherman or Katz, Laden leaves her work with an unfinished, intimate quality. Haphazardly hung with white tape and drips of paint trickling onto the gallery walls, the work reads like stream-of-consciousness thought or an unfolding visual accounting of shifting moods.
Stylistically distinct from Laden's other work are two curious self-portraits framed with an art nouveau-like motif. This elaborate decoration can be read metaphorically as social artifice, the grand facades of loveliness and order we project to conceal complicated inner psychological dramas. A related third work, just a decorative frame with no portrait, is executed as if the artist had chosen not to show up that day, perhaps lacking the will to evince either the psychological honesty or the public veneer found in her other work.
What is "missing" from Norris' paintings is a discernible narrative. Norris paints intricate imagery with a darkly funny aesthetic. The animal protagonists of his paintings swans, stags, bats, swallows, insects, dragons are in turns fuzzy and cute, then dark and dangerous. The implied story lines feel vaguely familiar, like a fairytale read years ago, but remain enigmatic and unplaceable. They are formally lovely, but the pleasantness is tempered by toxic-colored landscapes, writhing, contorted fauna and frothy, out-of-control flora. Everywhere are twisted bodies and wriggling tongues (in pleasure or in pain?).
The intricate detail of the larger panels offers a more complete, though nevertheless impenetrable, narrative. The smaller panels crop action to an extreme, creating a less baroque design from which it is all the more impossible to ferret out meaning. Interestingly, several of the smaller panels are literally cropped from the larger panels, creating the sense that with just a few more panels, perhaps a satisfying story line might emerge.
The quietest body of work, by Sprecher, includes a paper collage installation and several small, near-representational paintings simplified to the point of abstraction. There is a pleasant whimsy and aesthetic grace in Sprecher's work. He seems to delight in a mishmash of cultural offcasts. His work has a floating, fragmentary feel, as if all the stuff of the world has been unmoored and is drifting slowly by, denuded of any context.
Sprecher doesn't find anonymity in his ephemera as much as he creates it. He cuts, paints over, tapes on top of and tears out identifying characteristics. This intentional censorship has a funny, prankster sensibility that is also mournful and fatalistic. SThe show at ADA Gallery, 228 W. Broad St., runs through December. 644-0100.