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"Form and Metaphor" uses symbols that derive from the past yet point to the future. 

Vessels Full of Meaning

"Form and Metaphor" Diana Detamore, Barbara Hill and Julia E. Pfaff
The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
Through Aug. 31
264-5534

"Form and Metaphor" is a show that unfolds like a dream, both figuratively and literally. Full of Jungian motifs and themes, the collaborative works of Richmond artists Diana Detamore, Barbara Hill and Julia E. Pfaff convey symbols and archetypes that derive from the collective past yet still point to the infinite future.

Organized by curator Deborah McLeod (a Style art critic) with Susanne Arnold around the general theme of vessels, the three artists, through varying media, use their visual lexicon to describe what it means to contain. Whether containing relates to ancient artifacts, Southwestern pottery or the female figure, the ability to hold is the driving force that dictates the artwork's ultimate form.

In one room, Diana Detamore's 14 works on paper demonstrate two-dimensional vessels. Created through a mix of oil, pastel and graphite, the vessels have simple necks and openings, robust bellies, and tapered lower bodies reminiscent of Native American pottery in their earth-toned surfaces and fluid silhouettes. The individual vessels, both grounded and floating, are depicted with various objects — leaves, shells, blossoms, twigs, seeds, snakes and especially birds.

In Jungian vocabulary, the bird represents the quintessential symbol of transcendence. Detamore's containers have cavernous, gaping mouths surrounded by graceful, flowing birds that stress this concept of transcendental release. These images have a timeless, even surrealistic quality. Like a Magritte painting, sharp shadows suggest a specific time of day and season while the blank, vacant backgrounds echo of desolate dreamscapes and timeless eternity.

In the two other rooms, Julia Pfaff's fabric constructions and Barbara Hill's pottery are carefully interspersed to emphasize their symbiotic relationship. While Pfaff displays wonderful zinc etchings of amphora and skeletal remains, her most well-known and impressive works are large, hand-dyed, printed quilts. Continuing the dominant motif of vessels, Pfaff utilizes archaeology as her point of departure. In a large quilt titled, "The Curio Cabinet," skeletons, amphora and Corinthian columns are embedded in niches across the fabric canvas. Each shard of fabric reminds one of the layers of sediment that are unearthed to discover the objects of the past. Quilts provide the perfect metaphoric medium to replicate ancient amphora. Just as experts piece together fragments of ancient wares, so too Pfaff pieces together her fabric constructions.

Fragmentation is also a theme in Barbara Hill's dynamic terra cotta ewers and amphora. Hill builds her jars with mosaic-like shards of clay that achieve surface texture and historic interest. In their sculptural form, these vessels are the only ones in the show that can actually contain — a significant fact that determines their form and destroys the metaphor of function.

"Form and Metaphor" is an easy show to like. With the mix of paintings, etchings, ceramics and quilts, there's certainly something for everyone. Its only fault may be that it has been so carefully orchestrated that it truly directs the viewer's way of seeing. An overturned vessel on a pedestal or a certain coordination of colors between a jar and a quilt seem to be somewhat calculated and contrived. This may not be an altogether bad thing however. Far from the esoteric elitism that many exhibits embrace, "Form and Metaphor" is refreshingly obvious. It's theme: "To contain or not to contain, that is the
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