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“Cynthia I," pastel,
20 x 16", 1998.

MERRILYN DUZY

by Bill Lasarow

 

“Susan Huskey as Paula
Moderson-Becker", o/c.

 

(Orlando Gallery, Valley; Gallery 825, West Hollywood) Earlier this season Merrilyn Duzy was the subject of a twenty-five year survey of her work (at the Mt. San Jacinto College Art Gallery) that established her productivity and range. In two concurrent exhibitions Duzy allows us to revisit one of her two best series of paintings, Women Artists in History (at Gallery 825), where she allows colleagues and friends to stand in for historically important women; and presents a new series of pastels of nude and semi-nude women privately absorbed in preening and grooming in ways that are suggestively erotic (at Orlando).

“Cynthia Shubert as Suzanne
Valadon," o/c, 28 x 22, 1983.

Let it be said that this is a painter who is unreservedly advocating her medium. If there are younger contemporaries who will only lift a brush because their idea for a work requires it, Duzy is always celebrating an affair with it. She wants to fill every square inch of her images with visual incident (a few of the Women Artists works are more anecdotal, Victoria Masottias as Sofonisba Anquissola for instance, but this has to do with the narrative treatment of her subject rather than painterly restrain).

“Linda Jo Russell as Ende,"
o/c, 24 x 20", 1984.

When all of the parts are well crafted and the composition is graphically rich, as in Eileen or Susan Huskey at Paula Moderson-Becker, they sing; and when they sing it is a pleasure to explore their underlying feminist themes. Duzy does not embrace depiction of the female nude in order to emulate the tradition so much as to appropriate and subtly change the referenced male gaze. This doesn’t represent a historic breakthrough, of course; modern feminism has already empowered women to both see and represent each other in this way; Duzy is a contributor to this new social reality, but not one of its innovators. She aptly summarizes this type of seeing in images that are pleasurable rather than confrontational.



“Eileen," pastel,
20 x 16", 1998.

The earlier series is at once more didactic and edgier. By using stand-ins to “try on” the mantle of history Duzy attributes a certain weight of ambition to her contemporaries. She clearly worked hard to evoke the historical persona by virtue of setting and style. While the effort to push her brushwork to quote a subject is less successful and too often a stretch, the rich and careful selection of backgrounds in this


“Nadine," pastel,
20 x 16", 1998.

series is impressive and convincing. The journey from one exhibition to its complement is metaphorically akin to the larger transition from dawning gender awareness to the genuine exercise of newfound power.

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