Works of Enigmatic Beauty

by Theresa Ward Thomas

Mixed media photographs and sculpture by Paula Fridkin were shown at the Meredith Long Gallery during Houston’s summerIntroductions ’86 program of exhibitions.

The Meredith Long Gallery of Houston, a participant in Introductions ’86, hosted a one-woman show of mixed media works by Houston artist/photographer Paula Fridkin. The show was comprised of photographs and sculpture whose common denominators were the intense and elaborate use of color, pattern and texture. How the individual, especially women, perceives herself in society and how she responds to that image through the use of cosmetics and costume – themes which Fridkin has worked with in the past – surfaced intermittently in the work. The dilemma of aesthetics and/or message was subliminally addressed by Fridkin who desired to create work which is “ultimately pleasing to the eye.”
Of the twenty plus photographic portraits, a good number have achieved an enigmatic beauty. Eschewing the traditional white or monotone mat typically associated with portrait photography, Fridkin selected or created mats and backdrops using a variety of media. Upon first inspection, the elements of pattern and color which embraced the central image of each photograph, seemed to play a subsidiary role to the persona captured on film. Under closer scrutiny, leather, lace, glitter, sand, stock wall papers and fabrics were carefully and/r frenetically combined to inform the viewer about the person whose photograph had been taken. Although similar in format and size, the portraits did not form a cohesive series but rather a distinct collect of subsets. The viewer was presented with individuals simply and comfortably at ease with themselves, individuals dressed up to obscure or compound how they perceive themselves and are perceived by others (and actors from local comedy troupes) as parodies of certain character types.
In “Lureen #1,” a young girl who obviously enjoyed playing dress-up, wears a metallic wig, her favorite Minnie Mouse T-shirt, Paula’s high-heeled shoes and a ton of costume jewelry. The entire photograph was patterned and textured by the costuming. What started out as a black and white print (as did all of the photographs in the show) had been layered and augmented with a bold addition of color and glitter. The mat, a petite floral design on flannel, acted as a counterpoint to this precocious image.
In the sculptural works, executed concurrently with the photographs. Fridkin’s total control over her subject matter was demonstrated. Pattern and image are one and the same. “Love Paula, Heart #3,” a heart shaped assemblage of plastic devils and carnations, cosmetic containers and nails, along with “Love Paula, Heart #2,” a similar construction with a web-like expoxy restraining plastic toy phones and prescription bottles, address the ambiguities of love and beauty. Unlike the portraits, he all over pattern of these intricate works as simultaneously neutral background and coded object.
Paula Fridkin moves unabashedly from one medium to the next without hesitation or lack of dexterity. It will be interesting to see how she expands and perfects her work in the future.