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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED

Humor is the byproduct when classical style meets the mundane

01/18/02

By Doug MacCash Art critic

Orlando-based artist Rose Thome Casterline's figural paintings and drawings in her solo exhibit "Blah, Blah, Blah: Notes and Narratives," at Soren Christensen Gallery, may not have the anatomical accuracy of the Old Masters, but they do have some of the characteristics.

Her figures have the baroquely bulbous muscles of Michelangelo's studies for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They have the unhalting, undulating contour lines of Pollaiuolo, the inspired elasticity of El Greco and the emotional grotesqueness of Goya. All with a messy modern touch of artistic aggression and impatience a la Kokaschka or Bacon.

With those art historical heavyweights in her stylistic corner, you'd expect Casterline to dwell on the same sort of grave subject matter: religious passion, moral anguish, psychological struggle, death and the inevitable plunge to damnation.

Instead, she devotes her muscular paintings to the most middling of modern-day moments. "If the Shoe Fits" heroically depicts women trying on loafers in a department store. "Sippy Cup" is an exhausted golfer on the back nine, majestically sucking a sports drink through a magenta spiral-straw. In "One Trip," a suburban housewife in slippers struggles with grocery sacks and boxes. In "Pep Rally," an excited fan exorcises her demons by shouting hysterically from the bleachers. And in "Moment of Silence," we witness the bitter epiphany of a father video taping his somewhat overweight daughter's ballet performance, as she glowers in embarrassment.

Yes, Casterline isolates the transcendent human drama in ordinary middle-American endeavors, then she lampoons it without mercy. Or does she? Funny thing is, Casterline's artist's statement doesn't mention comedy.

Instead, she writes about her interest in social interaction and body language. "The nuances of the human condition may be an expression of movement as small, subtle and internal as a ‘butterfly stomach' or as large and external as a fall," she writes. But just what kind of a fall does she mean? To an outside observer, Casterline takes the emotional turmoil of Michelangelo's fall from grace and interprets it as a trip to a central Florida strip mall.

Whether you interpret these paintings as satirical or sincere, each is a brilliant idea, rendered brilliantly. Like George Dureau, Casterline has updated the idea of classical drawing and made it entirely contemporary and entirely her own.

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BLAH, BLAH, BLAH:

NOTES AND NARRATIVES

By Rose Thome Casterline

What: Paintings and drawings on canvas and wood panel.

Where: Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569-9501.

When: Tues-Sat, 10 a.m. to 5, through Jan. 31.