The past informs the art of Valerie Magarian, who presents her Southern Utah childhood as a series of disjointed episodes in her latest exhibition of paintings. Each canvas offers a dense world in which the distinction between time and space is effaced. Landscapes appear infinite. Forms bleed into one another. Magarian masterfully employs a painting technique in which dry pastels are rubbed vigorously into a canvas stained with thinned paint. She achieves the hazy softness of watercolor, a perfect effect for the viewing of these memory pictures.
It is all very pretty upon first glance. However, sustained viewing inspires a broad range of emotions. Like Gerhard Richter before her, Magarian explores the complex nature of human recollection. She, too, challenges the supposed one-dimensionality of our memories, revealing many aspects inherent in each. Darkness and a refined sense of humor reveal themselves subtly in the details of Magarian’s compositions. A solitary figure or seemingly misplaced pair of cartoonish lips lend not just visual intrigue but also depth. What is truly remarkable is how all of these elements come together into an emotionally intense whole.
Magarian’s hand-drawn animations, with their thick graphite lines and simple silhouettes, rival her paintings in terms of visceral quality. The stills feature childlike characters, a group of three hens in particular. When set in motion, they are oddly captivating and even cute, eliciting unadulterated responses. In these, Magarian relates episodes of her past in a more pared-down manner that leaves an indelible impression, perhaps more so than she does with her canvases. (Emma Ramsay)
Through August 13 at Harold Washington College President’s Gallery, 30 East Lake, Room 1105