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Ten artists ponder the existence and appearance of paradise in Coincidence Gallery's latest exhibition. 

Paradise Found

What does paradise look like, and where is it? Coincidence Gallery owner and director Katherine Henry-Choisser invited 10 artists to translate the idea for her current thematic show "Paradise: Ten in Two Thousand." Henry-Choisser has put together a group of artists that is well divided between the 30- and-under generation and the over-40 set. Perhaps it is because I am over 40 that I found the latter group's interpretations generally to be more recondite and enlightening, more effectively abstracted, while the younger artists tended to be more engaged in the visceral and autobiographical. Don Crow's delicate paper constructions stole the show for me. They define paradise as an artist's sketchbook hanging on the wall and the revelatory process of life represented as color and pattern at work just beneath the scrim of perception. His little repeating ovoid shapes patter across the page like raindrops or falling leaves. The shapes are made from colored tissue paper and layer on top of one another or on an assemblage of color planes as the pages of the sketchbook are pulled up or released by the viewer. Crow's paradise is here and now, an open gate into the Elysian field. Ruth Bolduan's glowing landscapes, on the other hand, imagine paradise as a distinct, possibly unattainable place. Her interpretation is the truest to the Oxford English Dictionary etymology of the word. It defines "paradise" from its original Greek origins as an enclosure or walled garden. Bolduan seals off the ideals of classical beauty, a world she represents here as architectural structures, from contemporary access. Her paintings place the viewer atop a barren, scorched mountain, offering a place forsaken by travelers, but preserved in perpetuity, nonetheless. Willie Anne Wright photographs the shed skins of those who exchange the physical world for an ethereal one. Unoccupied crocheted gloves and cotton lawn petticoats are hauntingly abandoned on orderly tabletops and amid unkempt gardens. They are the romantic possessions, props and restrictions of a vacated lady, whom we imagine to be floating, unencumbered, somewhere overhead. Wright's works deal the most closely with mortality, concealing a darkness, or mourning, beneath the sweetness of her compositions. Howard Lerner's single entry is a fine painting titled "Soutine's Puppets." For him paradise is a carnival, that European kind where one reportedly can lose one's innocence or soul to any one of a number of solicitations offered in the spinning, flickering phantasma of desires and compromises. It is a tease to only have one of these works to consider. I wished to stand in a room surrounded by his paintings and be entertained, indoctrinated and menaced by them. Richard Bledsoe offers a young man's interpretation of paradise. Tucked in a shuck of corn like two happy worms that have gotten the best of the ear of corn, he has a little copulating couple. Certainly he has a point to make about rapturous states and brief paradisiacal interludes, but this painting works better as a bit of puckishness rather than as a serious painting, and being thus, it makes sense not to address it too seriously. Likewise with his other work "Strange Growth," which perhaps cautions against longing for the Garden of Eden, for it may be already occupied. Another painting that I felt was successful, even for its awkwardness, was Jennifer Cox's "Falling From Grace." It isn't evident what the nude female figure has dropped from (an expulsion from heaven or a tall stalk of corn?) but she falls beautifully, like Maillol's famous "River" figure (which can be seen in the Virginia Museum's sculpture garden). With her electric expression and weirdly strained neck, Cox's figure sets up an interesting love/hate relationship for her viewer within the otherwise well-articulated scene she inhabits. It is one of those confusing art experiences that asks the viewer to have an open mind. Alex Nunnally and Craig Kittner also deserve mention: Kittner for his dynamic patterned paintings that recall the spiritual painting of Native and Meso Americans, and Nunnally for his clever brass and paraffin sculptures that remind us that sincere means "without wax" in Latin. Accordingly, I look forward to seeing those red candles of his melting
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