Bodies Hit the Gallery


MiMi Yeh

The last two years at UMass Boston have seen an influx of nontraditional artwork in both the Arts on the Point Sculpture Park and the Harbor Art Gallery with pieces like Tony Smith’s Stinger and shows like Ken Hruby’s “Stack Arms.” The new Harbor Art Gallery show brings with it a breath of tradition with the life and attention artists Liz Schweber Doles and Tom Norton give to figurative work. With poses varying from the usual contraposto to lackadaisical reclining, these nudes display a number of body types; svelte and muscled, voluptuous and petite.

Whether it’s done on mylar or metal, with graphite or pen and ink, the personalities within the pictures may be interpreted simply by examining the body language. Doles and Norton have been sharing studio space for nearly seven years, drawing in the same room and, if you examine their work, upon each other. Doles’ works are done mostly in charcoals with a splash of pastels to add color and Technicolor shadow displays while Norton’s are mostly pen and ink with different shades of tan watercolor to denote the appropriate shades of light and dark.

Two pieces of Norton’s stand out amongst his figurative creations. The first, is a corner piece done in metal with a digitally pointillated picture of a woman, partly in black and white with color segueing into the gleaming cutout of the warm, peachy flesh of the same woman lying on her side on the extended panel. Locked in eternal sleep, her body is relaxed in its graceful repose.

The second is Norton’s cylindrical overlapping of a digitized picture of The Endless Gesture #12 blown up and transposed onto mylar mirroring that of another figure standing across from it. Hanging in space, as this transparent tube spins it creates constant interplay between the opposing beings.

Doles’ sketches, however, fall more into the category of studies in their somewhat rougher representation of the human form. She leaves the viewer with a layer of ambiguity similar to that of the neighboring Healey Library show of one William Tucker. As with Tucker, Doles does not degenerate into abstraction but becomes successively more vague, giving an idea of the shape and stance of the being while forcing the audience to work harder and harder to give an expression and an attitude to her visual archetypes.

With Liferoom #7, a pastel, charcoal, and chalk sketch, Doles takes the human body and defines the powerful physique in shades of orange, gray, and black tones strong enough to convey the densely and thickly contoured planes of the man’s forward-leaning torso and pressing hands. The tendons in his legs bunch as he strains, to move the unmovable.

In Liferoom #14, the figure is clearly that of a woman, yet the enlarged, somewhat masculine shape and thickened tone to the thighs and face, gives it an oddly androgynous look. The vagina is almost an afterthought as the female leans to the side, her pose almost sexual.

The works are united in their universal themes of indeterminate body language displaying a flair for catching the viewer’s attention with the ever-elusive meaning of their emotionally impassive poses. Liz Schweber Doles’ and Tom Norton’s works will be on display in the Harbor Art Gallery of the McCormack Building from March 10 to April 2.