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Worlds Within Worlds 

In the myth, Narcissus gazes into a pond and falls in love with his own reflection as poor nymph Echo pines away, unable to get his attention long enough for him to fall in love with her. Greek myths were like that, ironic and quaint but sometimes too far behind the curve to be convincing in today's world. Now if Narcissus had only seen his image on high-definition TV played back from a DVD, that might have been more like it.

Ponds are rarely all that clear. Most mingle reflections with all sorts of flora and fauna into an amorphous melange that visually melds the inner life of the pond with fragments of everything around it. Pam Longobardi's oval mirror-like paintings similarly echo something of the natural world's creative chaos even as they allude to the greater world beyond. In Secret Garden, flowers and tangles of baroque filigree float lustrously on the mottled oval surface. A closer look reveals that some of the flowers are drawings of children's heads with haloes of petals, and that the surface is patterned like smoky cloud formations. In fact, Longobardi paints on copper sheets that have been bathed in acid to create their distinctive patina. Subtly reflective and atmospheric, the stained surfaces suggest natural erosion from exposure to the elements. The finish also has a deceptive depth in which her flora and fauna seem to float like objects just below the surface, as if in a state of suspended animation, or perhaps captured in a process of becoming or dissolving.

Himalayan holy men still scry the waters of sacred lakes, reading their reflections for clues to the truth or the future. Longobardi seems to be looking for the secrets of nature, for clues to how humans fit into the natural order these days, or perhaps where nature fits into humanity's increasingly techno scheme of things. The latter relationships are featured in Broken Pangaea (Super Ego), a horizontal oval in which her usual blooms and baroque flourishes are punctuated with collaged images of appliances, furniture, light bulbs and teddy bears, along with various species of flora, birds, bees and caterpillars. It all seems rather nebulous, and while some might find a little more formal structure helpful to comprehending Longobardi's elegant explorations, the nebulous approach appears in keeping with her flair for dissociation, a kind of dissolution of the aggressive human ego that these days appears hell bent on turning most of the earth into a vast shopping mall. It is sometimes said that a suspension of ego is necessary to perceive the sublime, and these intriguing compositions allude to that -- and to whatever else lurks beyond nature's looking glass.

Like Longobardi, Michael Murrell teaches at Georgia State University in Atlanta and creates objects that are largely nature based. But Murrell is a sculptor whose works range from finely crafted wood sculptures to far looser concoctions of found objects. In the former category, Soils is a series of enormous wooden morning glory-shaped blossoms -- actually they suggest those humongous Angel's Trumpet flowers that hang like surreal hallucinations on so many datura trees about town. Murrell ups the ante with five of these 8-feet-tall, meticulously crafted blooms, each suspended over circles of different colored soils.

Very different but also impressive is his series of Heads fashioned from wooden scraps, driftwood or metal. Arranged in ascending rows along the unusually tall walls at Barrister's, they recall classic assemblages such as Picasso's famous Bull's Head, which was simply but evocatively cobbled from a metal bicycle seat and handlebars. Some of his driftwood pieces have a wilder, more romantic if slightly unhinged look about them. All of which fits perfectly in this particular gallery, which also features the luxuriantly anarchical Babylon Lexicon exhibit of handmade artist's books and Jimmy Descant's Metal Paintings series of found object collages as well as Barrister's ongoing expo of exotic and outrageous oddities from all over.

Of particular note among the Babylon Lexicon works are a selection of finely made Irish books that feature more poetic content than most of the domestic submissions. But hey, we expect the Irish to be poetic -- right? Meanwhile, on the walls, Descant's Metal Paintings provide counterpoint, copping attitudes and making faces at everything around them. No, there's never any shortage of things to look at Barrister's. Sometimes they even look back.

click to enlarge Michael Murrell's works, as seen in works like Soils (pictured), often are finely crafted, nature-based wood sculptures that can stretch as high as 8 feet tall.
  • Michael Murrell's works, as seen in works like Soils (pictured), often are finely crafted, nature-based wood sculptures that can stretch as high as 8 feet tall.
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