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Visual Edge: Lisa Sweet's Painted Images and Objects at Salon Refu

Wood sculptures with an amazing amount of playful depth

"Sudarium," oil on panel by Lisa Sweet, hangs at Salon Refu in Olympia.

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I have long been fascinated by Lisa Sweet's paintings. They are bizarre, pop-surrealist images of torture, death and martyrdom painted with skill and quirky humor. Lately she has added painted wood sculptures to her repertoire and along with that an amazing amount of playful depth, both literal and illusory.

Sweet teaches art at The Evergreen State College. Among the classes she teaches is art appreciation with an emphasis on medieval art; her love of medieval art is clearly evident in her paintings. These paintings combine traditions and styles from today and from the 13th and 14th centuries, including diptychs, triptychs and cross-shaped paintings. Her figures, mostly women in combinations of contemporary and medieval styles of dress, are comedic-surrealistic and painted with precision and smooth blending of colors. They are thought-provoking and constantly surprising.

One of the most astounding paintings, due to a new twist I've never before seen in her work, is "Doubt," a painting of a woman in a blue dress reaching out to touch a man with long hair and a robe of the type depicted in biblical illustrations. The man appears to be Jesus, and her gesture is that of Doubting Thomas touching Jesus' wound after the crucifixion. The new twist is that Jesus has no face. The face is cut out to reveal a flat board an eighth of an inch below the surface. The cut-out face provides an interesting spatial play with surface and is a metaphorical puzzle.

"Spilled Milk (Catherine of Alexandria)" is a standing polychrome and wood female figure. Her head is detached and hangs from her neck by a thread. The Roman Emperor Maxentius had Catherine tortured and ordered her to be put to death on the spiked "breaking wheel." After the wheel mysteriously fell apart, failing to kill her, Maxentius had her beheaded. In Sweet's Catherine the spiked wheel is painted on her robe.

There is a cross-shaped painting of the crucifixion with, instead of nails driven into the body there are Post-it Notes attached with push pins.

Another favorite is "Before and After," oil and gold leaf and sgrafitto on paired wood panels. Sgrafitto is a technique used in murals in which contrasting colors are layered in coats of plaster. This diptych shows two versions of the same woman holding an oil can. In one the can is red and realistically painted, and in the other the can is flat gold leaf, as is the background. Spatially it is interesting because the gold leaf advances visually bringing the background up to the edges of the figure. It is also interesting that the painted red can is almost as bright and shiny as the gold leaf.

Another of her painted wood sculptures, "Ambulation," is a woman in a green robe holding her upside-down head in her hands.

This is an intriguing show. I recommend seeing it on Sept. 19 when the artist will give a talk at 7 p.m.

"EX VOTO: PAINTED IMAGES AND OBJECTS," 2-6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, through Sept. 26, Salon Refu 114 N Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.280.3540

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