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Designing Women 

I started with these female figures who are so dense and from the earth, such old souls, their feet and hands worn to the bone. I wanted to express the spareness and strength that comes from walking in the desert so many times. Š A spirit that after all says: Let's put on evening gowns, let's step out."

She's at it again. Every so often Evelyn Jordan arranges a convocation of her uncanny aboriginal women, a throwback race of more or less life-size ceramic ladies who congregate like figures from dreamtime. In the past they wore very little. In this show they are often clothed, but you may not know it; you have to look twice. Partnerless Dance is such a figure, a woman of the earth apparently gesticulating, gesturing with her hands and arms as if dancing at a festive gathering. Her rugged body at first appears as naked as her gnarly hands and feet, but no, those are the folds of a gown hanging above her ankles. After her long travails in the deserts of the psyche, she apparently wants to party a bit, in evening attire. But Jordan wants them all to go away, or at least evolve. Or maybe even devolve.

Ghost appears just as solid and earthly -- breasts, midriff and legs pressed taut against sheer coverings -- only something's missing: no head, neck or arms emerge from the folds of her gown. Her form is fecund, but discarnate. "The beautiful surprise for me was that the empty dress has such volume, a filled-from-the-inside feeling, but filled with air, breath," Jordan writes. Even so, Jordan wanted a break. She began making walls.

Stack is just that, a group of clay forms stacked vertically in a manner reminiscent of the monoliths of ancient pagan ritual sites. Next to it, Altar With Gourds extends the sensibility horizontally, in flat tablets holding ceramic ritual implements. Another piece, Whale's Tail reverts to vertical, but with a fin-like flair at the top. (Amazing how a minor detail can totally change the tone.) Whale's Tail/Belly Button is similar but with a little indent where the navel would be on a person, and voila! -- an abstract minimalist torso. Actually, it's so minimal that it should be genderless, yet somehow it conveys a sense of something female without even trying. Jordan may want to put her figures behind her but those women are tenacious; they appear when and where you least expect them.

Lateefah Wright also makes intricately crafted female figures out of clay (or occasionally leather), but unlike Jordan, hers are little women. Actually, they are dolls. Cute but not always cuddly, most are droll, even sardonic. And, like most women, they are complicated. You could even call them women of many parts, though some have more parts than others. It's a part of their charm, but let's ease gently into this by starting with the simple allure of Ana Phylaxis, a pale redhead dressed in vintage satin and lace.

She's one of those bohemian lasses with sepulchral white skin and a self-conscious sense of cool. Afraid of seeming naive, she overcompensates by eternally sticking her tongue out at the world. With her black satin, pale puce lace and Victorian boots, she appears to be one of those post-goth gals, darkly poetic and demure to a fault. Wright says, "She has no intention of dying this young, yet she cannot and will not retract her tongue." Others, however, are more extroverted, sometimes in spite of anomalies like having two heads or being conjoined at the spine. Lavinia is clearly a flirt who seems unconcerned that her skirt is more minimal than mini, or that her lacy top tends to leave her more-than-ample breasts underdressed. Her sly smile suggests she is not only not self-conscious at having three breasts and three legs, but may even take a certain pride in possessing such a plentitude of charms -- of being a woman of many parts. Wright says, "2 Have & Have Nought explores the delightful idee fixe of Teratology," the study of birth defects, a notion she regards as socially conditioned, subjective and ultimately subordinate to a more transcendent truism, namely that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

click to enlarge Evelyn Jordan's Partnerless Dance is typical in its portrayal of women only seemingly naked, but a second glance reveals clothing -- and an attitude.
  • Evelyn Jordan's Partnerless Dance is typical in its portrayal of women only seemingly naked, but a second glance reveals clothing -- and an attitude.
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