The unrequited love of Melody Owen

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Melody Owen’s “Torch Songs”, currently at the Elizabeth LeachGallery, is a sweet if disparate collection of works based onobscured communication. The artist uses a variety of mediums toevoke the torch song, a sentimental chanson of unrequited love.Owen aligns her work in both the conceptual and visual camps,though some of the hand wringing over the distinction is often muchado about nothing.

The strongest work in the show is “MGM Lion,” a video of saidanimal doing his usual roar – silently – while polished gems escapehis mouth. In the 33-second work, glossy, spinning coloreddiamonds, sapphires and emeralds make their way from his grainyblack and white roar. The brevity is encouraging and respectful inan art world that too often asks us to watch long, uneventfulexamples of constipated, obscure drudgery. And who doesn’t love theMGM Lion?

The artist confessed that old films and film stars were a major,if indirect, influence on her work. The MGM lion presides like agodfather over the entire exhibition, elegantly spewing the stuffdreams are made of.

Another highlight is “Sonets,” a small series of collages. Eachcollage is an encounter between two birds in which they are placedagainst stark, one-color backgrounds and then united by thread. Thebirds maintain eye contact but are still very isolated in thesesparse, elegant compositions. Birds have been done by the collagegreats – Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst come to mind – but Owensucceeds in adding her own personal style and message.

“Index to Atlas” asked for time from the viewer and, whileconfusing at first, makes a case for the isolation of lost love.Removed from the original context and tacked on the wall, old bookindexes seem to record the sad and random facts of life, like loveaffairs that come and go. Visually, the removed indexes, spiralingin a downward slide, did not convince as strongly as some of theother work; however, vehicles for lost love have their own,unsorted pain to address and perhaps owe us nothing.

This exhibition also held a group of straight-ahead pencildrawings called “Empathy Series,” which were almost unnecessary. Inthe human hand were various animals. The idea was that the linewould vary so little that you could not tell where a human endedand an animal began. The emotive quality so important to pullingoff this kind of simple exercise was not quite there, especiallywhen compared to more untraditional mediums in which this artistexcels.

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